Last week’s episode was essentially the second-half of one very long leg that was split into two halves for dramatic purposes only. As the five remaining teams made their way from Denmark to Belgium, the Roadblock and Detour seemed to be rather inconsequential as to the final order the racers finished in, as nearly every team had some level of difficulty making their way from one place to another. Snowboarders Andy and Tommy were the only ones to run a mistake-free leg, and finished in first place for the sixth time this season. Sadly, seniors Bill and Cathi, though never far behind the rest of the pack, were never quite able to overcome their deficit and were eliminated. Four teams remain, and only three will be around next week for the race to the Finish Line and $1,000,000.

Starting Line - The Atomium Monument in Brussels, Belgium, where the teams checked in last week. The first clue required the racers to dress up as bumbling detectives Thomson and Thompson from the Tintin comic books that were penned by Belgian author Herge, (and conviently two weeks before the debut of the Adventures of Tintin full-length feature film), and locate a man dressed as Tintin standing in front a Tintin mural at the Stockel/Stokkel metro station. (Note: depending on which translation of the book you are reading, the detectives also go by the names Johnson and Jonson or Dupond and Dupont. Any of those names were acceptable to receive their next clue.)

Sadly, most of the teams started the leg at just after 4 a.m., and most of the locals awake at that time were too young to be Tintin aficionados. And if you are unfamiliar with the Thompson Twins (not the 80’s band, the characters), they dress in idential black suits with idential bowler hats and bushy Hitler mustaches. I was a little disappointed that not one single team knew right off the bat who Tintin was. I grew up reading the stories, and they were awesome. I am really looking forward to the film. (It’s also worth noting that the three ladies looked better in their fake mustaches than bushy-bearded Tommy did.)

Anyway, after finding “Tintin” and correctly identifying him and themselves, they were given their next destination: Panama City, Panama. After the teams arrived in Panama City, they would then hire a boat to take them up the Chagres River where they would find their next clue in the village of Parara Puru. All the teams ended up on the same plane anyway, making the whole Tintin thing just a shout-out to Belgium as well as a shameless plug for the movie.

I would have been pretty spooked to take the boat ride up the Chagres, I must say. The motorized boats were barely big enough for one pilot, two racers and one cameraman, and the fact that the journey was done in pretty much pitch-black night didn’t make it any less spooky. Plus, the river is strewn with fallen logs and hard-to-see sandbars, so given the choice, it would have been smart to wait until first light. It was still the dead of night when they reached Parara Puru, and their next task: to sign up to receive a tribal tattoo the next morning.

I’m pretty sure that the tattoo imprinted on the racers’ skin was not permanent, given that it was nothing more than their next clue, which was the San Francisco Bay Towers, which was located back in Panama City. After making their way to the Towers, they located the clue box, which was this leg’s Roadblock. In it, one team member had to cross a 65-foot tightrope between the Towers (which was 35 stories up), retrieve a clue, and then make their way back across the same tightrope to retrieve their partner.

Because the rules state that both team members must perform an equal number of Roadblocks over the course of the season, it was determined that Andy, Sandy, Cindy and Amani had no choice but to perform this task. This was not a problem for extreme-sports enthusiast Andy, of course, but for Sandy and Cindy, the immense height was a bit of a problem. After finishing the death-defying task, teams were given a riddle directing them to search for a man under a “rooster”, which was in fact the Statue of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the Frenchman who developed the Suez Canal and attempted to duplicate said success in Panama. Unforunately, that project, which started in the 1880’s, was devasated by malaria and yellow fever, and ended up not being completed until 1914.

The clue box next to the statue was this leg’s Detour. The choices: Filet and Sole. In the former, teams had to travel to a nearby fish market, where they had to deliver fish – by hand, without the use of a basket – to different marked stalls throughout the market, each of which only accepted a certain weight and type of fish. Once done, the fishmonger would give them their next clue. In the latter, teams had to travel to another market and find a stall selling sandals, where they had to use one piece of leather each to make the sole and strapping for a pair of sandals before receiving their next clue.

The final clue told the teams to go to Plaza de la Catedral (Cathedral Square) and search among the mass of female pollera dancers – all wearing big, flowy dresses – and find the one dress that had written on it the location of this leg’s Pit Stop: the Panama Viejo, a fortress tower located in the oldest part of Panama City. This proved to be one of the most difficult challenges of the season. The dancers were in motion most of the time, and the clue that was written on the one dress was written in such a way that you couldn’t read it unless you were looking very closely. An additional clue was a outline of the tower, which was etched into the medallions all the women were wearing. This proved to be more fruitful for the first three teams, as not one of them saw the writing.

Here is the order in which the remaining teams finished, along with some of their more notable highlights.

#1. Jeremy and Sandy - Well, it took them eleven whole legs, but they FINALLY came in first. Which is nice, but I really don’t want them to win. Every season there’s always one stopover in a Spanish-speaking country, and every season, there’s always one team that learned to speak Spanish watching Speedy Gonzalez cartoons, if you know what I mean, and Jeremy and Sandy are that team this season. Sigh.

They and the snowboarders were the first ones into the boats in Panama, but Sandy got all defeatist AGAIN when their boat temporarily ran aground on a sandbar. I swear, she gives up faster than anyone I can remember ever being on this show. I would like to think that her TV persona is less recalcitrant than her acutal, real-life persona, but I guess I’ll never know. That being said, I hope this one win – which got them a trip for two to the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean – is the only one they get.

#2. Ernie and Cindy - After Andy and Tommy, Ernie and Cindy have been by far the most consistent team, never once finishing lower than fifth place in any leg. They’ve made mistakes, but they’ve all been small enough to not cost them enough time to put them out of the race, though they’ve usually been big enough to not get them the outright lead. Ernie is really cool, and a stand-up guy, and Cindy is also seems to have a good heart, though she could stand to loosen up and not be so wound up the whole time.

Other than that, there’s not much to say about them for this particular episode. They ran a pretty clean leg.

#3. Amani and Marcus - At the beginning, Marcus compared this leg to being in the NFL Conference Championships, where the winner gets to move on to the Super Bowl. Sadly, despite being in three of those, he was unable to vie for a Super Bowl ring as a pro. They were in third or fourth place for pretty much the entire leg, but they were able to squeak by and earn a spot in the Finals.

Not for the first time, they were extremely lucky. Jeremy and Sandy and Ernie and Cindy correctly identified the location of the Pit Stop, and Amani and Marcus were halfway to the wrong location when their cabbie received the correct information from the other teams’ cabbies (apparently they all knew each other), and this was enough to get them to the tower ahead of the snowboarders.

The following team was eliminated:

#4. Andy and Tommy - Despite starting off in the lead, they got off to a bad start when, despite finding Tintin in an Internet café, were convinced that their characters were both Charlie Chaplin. (That’s just… dumb.) They got their usual first place at Parara Puru, and all seemed well, and they delighted in immersing themselves in the tribal-ness of the tiny village. After the tattoos, they had a twenty-minute lead on Jeremy and Sandy and a forty-minute lead on the other two teams.

Andy shot across the tightrope like a cat on fire, and it seemed like they were going to cruise into the finals with their customary ease. They were the first to the Detour, and they were the first time to finish crafting a pair of sandals. Their downfall came one task shy of the Finals, when they misinterpreted the clue on the dancers’ dresses, sending them to completely the wrong location: first the Panama Canal, and then the statue of explorer Vasco Balboa. By the time they returned to the dancers and got the correct location, it was too late.

Well, damn. You just hate to see that. After ten legs of near-perfect racing, one little mistake eliminates one of the strongest teams ever to do The Amazing Race. If any team earned a spot in the Final Three, it’s them, but it just wasn’t meant to be. No team had ever won this many legs. But then, I can’t feel too sorry for them, given that they’ve won three awesome vacation packages, $12,500 in cash/credit and a customed 2012 Mustang each. Plus, they’re really terrific guys, and it’s good to see nice guys come out ahead for once.

Next week: The race comes to an end. One team will nab a cool mil in the city of Atlanta, Georgia.

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