Last week, Big Brother Rachel refused to have her head shaved in order to complete a Fast Forward, a move that ultimately didn’t cost her and Brendon a thing, though it did incur the bitchy wrath of J.J., who got his panties in a wad that anyone who wouldn’t go that extra mile didn’t deserve to win. Whatever, asswipe. Kentucky boys Bopper and Mark, way way behind the rest of the field, tried their hardest to catch up (including Bopper getting his head shaved), but to no avail. They were eliminated, leaving only four teams left.

Normally, I start my recap with the basic facts of the leg and then highlight each teams’ best (or worst) moments. Since this was the season finale, however, I think I’m going to do more of a blow-by-blow account (being as terse as possible) so as to increase the suspension. Of course, if you really want to know who won, just pan down to the bottom of the recap. (BOMP.)

Starting Line - The Cheena Vala fishing nets, found aplenty in Vypin, India. The teams’ first clue told them to fly to Hiroshima, Japan. From their, the would locate Miyajima Island and the historic Itsukushima Shrine. All four teams ended up on the same flight, so there’s the great equalizer again. In Japan, however, Rachel and Dave fell behind when they couldn’t buy tickets out of Hiroshima Airport in time to catch the same train as the others. Things got worse for Rachel and Dave when they just missed the last ferry boat to Miyajima.

This just goes to prove that seconds do, in fact, count. That might be the first time all season that they’ve been in last place. Because of those few seconds, Rachel and Dave were forced to catch the first ferry the next morning. They were extremely fortunate, however, in that their clue at the Itsukushima Shrine wouldn’t become available until sunup anyway, so they were back in the race, just like that.

At sunrise, a local farmer delivered the teams’ next clue, which told them to find Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Cut immediately to that location, where Phil narrated that on August 7, 1945, the entire city of Hiroshima was wiped out by an atomic bomb, one of the events that ended WWII. Most of the city has been rebuilt since then, but the burned-out shells of a few buildings remain, including the Memorial, which actually looks none the worse for wear. It provided a nice moment for reflection for the final eight contestants.

Afterwards, all the teams made their way by high-speed bullet train to Osaka, where they found their next clue at the TV8 television studio. And this being Japan, you almost immediately realize that some crazy game show will be involved, and it was. In this leg’s Roadblock, one team member had to participate in a game called “Bring That Chicken Home” (?!), which entailed grabbing three rubber chickens hanging from the ceiling while negotiating a fast-moving treadmill.

It was really amusing watching Art, who is very stocky, try to do this challenge, and he took a few diggers onto his face, all while J.J. was laughing his giblets off. He was still able to complete the Roadblock before any of the other teams arrived, however, and their next destination was revealed to be the Umeka Sky Building, a very distinctive-looking building in downtown Osaka that also houses the Floating Garden Observatory, where their next clue awaited.

The other three teams arrived at the Roadblock together. In case you didn’t know, the number of Roadblocks is an even number, and it is a set rule that in ten legs, both team members must do five each. For this reason, Vanessa was forced to do this Roadblock, and running and jumping while on a treadmill is excruciating when you’re doing it on a bum ankle, which had been plaguing her since tripping and falling in India. At that moment, I figured this team was doomed. But to her immense credit, she sucked it up and completed the challenge. Props to her.

At the Observatory, teams were presented with two videoscreens outlaying this leg’s (and the season’s final) Detour. The choices: Bingo Shout-Out and Photo Cut-Out. In the former, teams would go to a restaurant where sushi rolls were sent out on a conveyor belt, grab them and place them on a bingo card covered with names of different types of sushi. When they correctly identified five called sushi rolls and placed them in a row on their card, they would then eat the sushi to get their next clue. In the latter, teams had to convince locals to pose behind three large sumo wrestler cutouts, so they could take their picture. Once they got ten photos, they would get their next clue.

I personally would not take the sushi option. I loathe the stuff, and could probably not identify different types if my life depended on it. Surprisingly, three of the four teams opted for that task, whereas only Rachel and Dave took the photography option. This proved to be significant, as it took considerably less effort to persuade passers-by to pose for one silly picture. They bounded back into the lead, and were the first team to get the clue to Leg Ten’s Pit Stop: the magnificent Osaka Castle, where Rachel and Dave scored their seventh leg win and their fourth vacation package, this time to New Zealand. Yay!

J.J. and Art were the first to get “bingo”, and they finished the penultimate leg in second. Right behind them was team Big Brother, which meant that Ralph and Vanessa could only come in fourth. They had their up moments and their down moments this season, but I never took them seriously as competitors. Every chance they had to pull ahead was balanced out by a moment of incompetency, and now they’ve lost their chance to go all the way to the end.

And so we move on to the Final Leg. Teams left the Starting Line at the Osaka Castle en route to their final destination city: Honolulu, Hawaii. I’m pretty sure this is the second time the race has gone through Hawaii, but never as a final destination. Anyway, once in Honolulu, teams had to figure out that their next clue awaited at the Twin Towers (aka the Mauka and Makai Waterfront Towers).

All three of the final teams were on the same flight, so the leg basically started with the mad dash out of the airport. Unsurprisingly, Rachel and Dave not only got the first cab but also the one with the most learned cabbie, who instantly told them just what Mauka and Makai was. And then he proved to be wily as well, successfully ditching Art and J.J. who were content to just follow them in their own cab. Hee hee.

The mother of all strength-related tasks awaited them at the Twin Towers: teams had to use mechanical ascenders to get to the top of the Makai Tower… 45 stories up. Once on the roof, teams had to search for a red-and-gold marker on the ground somewhere, where their next clue awaited, and then they would have to rappel down again (face-down). Yikes, that’s scary. Even scarier is the fact that Brendon and Rachel got their only seconds behind Rachel and Dave, while the Border Agents futzed about with a completely ignorant cab driver. It gets worse for them when they pull over to ask a local about the “twin” clue, and he promptly sends them miles in the wrong direction.

Rachel and Dave reach the roof first, and spot the banner in a park across a waterway several miles away. They finish their rappel just as Art and J.J. finally reach the building, and Big Brother starts their descent. One cab ride later, they reach the park in question, which was located on Sand Island (formerly known as Quarantine Island during WWII). Rachel and Dave find the clue box, and it is another Roadblock.

In this Roadblock, teams had to use an actual Japanese samurai sword to shave about twelve quarts of ice, after which their next clue would be given to them by famous Hawaiian actor and former sumo wrestler Taylor Wily (who I’ve never heard of). Dave finishes the task just ahead of Brendan while the girls watched Art and J.J.’s progress at the Tower across the water. After shaving the ice, teams went on foot to a nearby baseball field where three helicopters awaited, which would take them to their next location on Oahu’s North Shore.

Of course, it was only a matter of time when team Big Brother would irrevocably fuck up their chances, and here is where it happened. Despite reading the clue out loud, they completely ignored the words “on foot”, hopped in their cab and went to a baseball stadium that was miles away. I mean, holy shit, the final leg and they choose NOW to not read the clue properly? They are such idiots, and I hope they never appear on my TV screen again after this.

If you haven’t seen Hawaii’s scenic coastline, you should, it’s magnificent. Once the helicopter touched down, Rachel and Dave, now with a clear lead, got the next clue: to join a North Shore rescue team. In this task, one team member would drive a wave-runner out into the surf, and the other would rescue a “distressed” swimmer from the water. Rachel handled the wave-runner like a pro, and they finished the task very quickly.

The next location – The Coral Kingdom Gate in Hakipu’u Valley, Kaneohe – was the site of this season’s final Roadblock. In this challenge, the team member that didn’t shave the ice had to participate in traditional Hawaiian games; first they had to sled down a large hill without falling over, and then they had to bowl a lava rock through a goal on a field. As a brisk rain begins to fall, Art and J.J. actually get there FIRST. Oh, boy, we’ve got a race again! What the hell happened?

OMG. In searching for the Coral Kingdom Gate, Rachel and Dave actually found the thing they were supposed to do afterwards… make their way to a dock where they would take a standing paddle boat over to Secret Island, where the Finish Line awaited, along with Phil and all of the eliminated teams. This has NEVER happened before. I mean, teams have shown up at the Pit Stop without performing all the requisite tasks, but never on the final leg!

To thunderous applause, Rachel and Dave run up and mount the mat, only to be completely deflated when Phil tells them that their race is not done yet. Everyone is thunderstruck, but they have no choice but to hoof it back to where they came. When they finally find the Coral Gate, Art and J.J. were even more surprised, because they thought they were well behind at this point. So now it came down to who could do the task first, Art or Rachel.

The sleds the racers had to ride down were incredibly long and narrow, and as I said earlier, Art’s a husky fellow, so it was tough sledding (literally). Try as he might, he simply could not stay on, and then having to haul the sled back up the hill was quite exhausting. The much-skinnier Rachel powers through on only her second try. Art, increasingly frustrated, keeps trying and keeps failing, and J.J. can see it all slipping away. Tool. Meanwhile, Brendon and Rachel have finally caught up.

After a few attempts, Rachel bowls her rock into the net. Hmm… the final challenge is almost always a memory thing where they remember stuff from the previous legs… why did they not do that this time? Those were usually pretty tough, and in a game this close, it would have added to the drama. Oh well.

Art and Big Brother Rachel continue their exercise in futility, pissing and moaning and fast approaching irrelevancy. Meanwhile, Rachel and Dave paddle across to Secret Island for the second time, and this time, they were not sent away. All eight teams smile as they mount the mat, and Phil tells them that they have one the million dollar prize. And I exhale a huge sigh of relief.

On the one hand, Rachel and Dave were easily the best team this year. They set a record by winning eight of eleven legs, finishing out of the top two only twice, and generally kicking ass from Minute One on. And apart from their frequent squabbles, they were pretty congenial. They never once lost focus so badly that they made any horrible mistakes, and they totally deserved their victory.

On the other hand, this was a pretty uninteresting season. Every leg not won by Rachel and Dave was won by Art and J.J., who ran step-for-step with them the whole way. At no time were either team seriously threatened by anyone else, skill-wise. (Joey and Danny might have completed if they hadn’t lost a race to a Fast Forward that put them out, but that’s neither here nor there.) If these same teams were to run the race all over again, I have no doubt that the results would be eerily similar.

Note to the producers: cast better teams. Having one team dominate from beginning to end is boring, and this is one of the few long-running reality shows that still manages to make me excited. I hope that for Season 21, things are a lot more competitive.

So that’s it, another season in the books. Thanks to all of you for reading my recaps, and I look forward to this fall when TAR goes around the world once again. In the meantime, I will be recapping America’s Got Talent this summer. Take care!

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