Last week, the five remaining teams stayed in Switzerland. They helicoptered up to the Alps, where early leaders Zev/Justin chose the wrong end of a Detour that put them dangerously behind. However, it was the Roadblock, which involved creating a Travelocity gnome replica out of Swiss chocolate that proved to be the most dramatic, as a flap ensued between Kent and Big Easy about whose chocolate molding belonged to whom. And though the last quarter of the telecast was interrupted by the news flash about the death of Osama Bin Laden, I was happy to report that Goths Kent/Vixsyn misread their final clue, sustained a time penalty and were Phil-iminated. I mean, they were moderately cool at the beginning, but had since become my least favorite team of the season, and I’m glad they’re gone. Four teams remain: father/daughter team Gary and Mallory Ervin; best friends Zev Glassenberg and Justin Kanew; sisters/coaches Kisha and Jen Hoffman; and Harlem Globetrotters Herb “Flight Time” Lang and Nate “Big Easy” Lofton.

There are two legs remaining, and both of them will take place in this two-hour episode. So strap yourselves in as this eighteenth running of The Amazing Race draws to a conclusion.

So after a couple of minutes of summing up the season, the opening credits (which, for my money, are still the coolest opening credits of any reality game show on TV) and a commercial break, we rejoin the game at the Zermatt railway station. Flight Time/Big Easy step off the mat at 7:12 am, and their first clue directs them to take the train back to Zurich and purchase a ticket to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, home of many, many Portuguese-speaking people, as well as being the setting for recent Hollywood blockbusters Rio and Fast Five. Once in Rio, teams must take a five-minute tram ride up a hill and find the set of world-famous stairs known as the Escaderia Selarón, where they must search the many tile-covered steps for one single Route Info tile that will have their next clue on the back. The ‘trotters are a little apprehensive about this second-to-last leg, because this is where they were eliminated last time. I doubt that there will be any Kafkaesque challenges in Brazil, so they probably need not fret over that.

Kisha/Jen are three minutes behind the ‘trotters, and they, too, are worried about this leg because it was on this leg in Season 14 that Jen took a tragically ill-timed bathroom break mere yards from the Pit Stop, which resulted in their elimination. Gary/Mallory are a further three minutes behind the sisters, and Mallory is super-pumped about going to Rio. Zev/Justin leave the mat in time to catch the same train as the others, so everyone is even again. At the airport, all of them eventually end up on the same flight to Rio that lands just before 8:00 the next morning.

Landing, mad dash, taxis, yada yada. All teams but the Globetrotters make it to the tram in time to catch one just leaving, and that puts them instantly thirty minutes behind. Blame it on the slow cabbie. So they have a seat while the other teams race up to the steps, and Justin finds the blue Route Info tile immediately. On the back are instructions to proceed to the Largo De Sao Francisco de Prainha and search for the next clue near Rua Sacadura Cabral. Mallory and Kisha find theirs in pretty short order as well, and off they go just as the Globetrotters board the second tram.

Roadblock. There are many dancers in the vicinity as Zev/Justin find the next clue box, which is this leg’s Roadblock. One team member was required to participate in a Rio Carnival parade, which involved putting on a costume and leading a troupe of dancers in a samba to the satisfaction of the Carnival Princess. Since Zev had done fewer Roadblocks than Justin going in, he was forced to take the duties here. And boy o boy, is the costume he is forced to wear ridiculous. I can’t even describe it, it looks like an ancient Aztec sacrifice costume, exposing his midriff. And to make matters worse, Zev has what he calls “white boy rhythm”, so learning the samba is going to be problematic. Mallory manages the rock the outfit, and she is lucky enough to not possess two left feet.

Flight Time/Big Easy have located their Route Info tile, and are now en route to the Rua Sacadura. Mallory, meanwhile, finishes her brief lesson and starts leading her dancers, and the Princess holds up a “Sim” sign on her first go-round, which means she and Gary are now in first place. They get their clue, which tells them to head for the world-famous Copacabana and search for a salon called “COP” (which is an acronym) to find their next clue. They head out, while Zev’s first attempt at samba finds the Princess scowling like Len Goodman at Master P. Meanwhile, Kisha/Jen have arrived, and Kisha attempts to learn the same steps.

Gary/Mallory find the COP salon, which tells them that they both have to undergo a 15-minute session of Brazilian body waxing. And let me tell you, if you have ever seen what that is… well, it ain’t pleasant, that’s for damn skippy. At least it’s something Mallory has kind of been through before. While Gary is getting his hair ripped out, they laugh through gritted teeth about how awful this is going to be for the incredibly hirsute Zev and Justin… that is, assuming Zev can ever get the steps right. He fails again, and Kisha gets it right on the first try, placing the boys in third now. And just a few moments after Kisha/Jen leave, the Globetrotters trot up. It’s on now.

Detour. Gary/Mallory finish up their waxing session, and are handed the Leg’s Detour. The choices: On the Rocks and On the Beach. In the former, teams travel to the Espacio X bar on Copacabana beach where they learned to make caipirinhas (Brazil’s national cocktail). Once they made 100 proper caipirinhas, they would receive their next clue. In the latter, teams had to pick up an umbrella loaded with bikinis and a mobile changing station which their prospective buyers would use to model the bikini. Once teams earned the equivalent of $60 American, they would receive their next clue. Gary/Mallory opt for Rocks.

While Big Easy is leading his dancers, Zev takes yet another turn in front of the Princess… and this time, he gets passed through. Big Easy’s first attempt goes awry, but nails it on the second try. Gary/Mallory, across town, get their crash course in caipirinha-making, and set to work. Thing is, it’s a five-step process, and if you get one wrong, you muck up the drink. Kisha/Jen and the Globetrotters arrive at the salon minutes apart, for Zev/Justin have gotten themselves lost. Oops.

Both Kisha/Jen and the Globegrotters join Gary/Mallory at the drinks stand, while Zev/Justin settle in for the roughest 15 minutes of their lives, as they have the shag carpets that cover their chests and legs peeled off. Damn, I can’t even watch this. This makes eating a pot full of gooey, nasty fondue look bearable. However, they bear it with their trademark humor (Justin yells out “Kelly Clarkson!” in a shout-out to The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which was hysterical). But eventually all they can do is endure, and I really feel for them. Once finished, they decide to sell bikinis, which is probably smart given that if they had chosen to make drinks, they’d have little to no chance to catch up.

While the three other teams continue to knock out their drinks, Zev/Justin attempt to sell bikinis on the beaches of Rio, and not having much luck. It looks like there are quite a few guys doing this already, and it’s tough to imagine the locals choosing a pair of scrawny-looking, nasally-voiced Americans to buy from, especially when their sales pitch comes mostly in the form of begging. Meanwhile, Gary/Mallory are the first team to concoct 100 caipirinhas, and are given the location to Leg Eleven’s Pit Stop: the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum (or, more specifically, the beach overlooked by it).

All that’s basically left to say now is what order the group finished in. Gary/Mallory did indeed finish in first place this leg, and each of them won an 11-night cruise through the Mediterranean Sea, which is awesome. I’m so happy they made the Final Three. Kisha/Jen, bolstered by Jen’s collegiate bar tending experience, end up coming in second place for the third straight leg. Which means that if they win the final leg, they will cop the million dollars without winning any other leg, which I’m pretty sure would be a first. Flight Time/Big Easy are right behind them in third, and I’m also quite glad for them.

Elimination. Sadly, Zev/Justin had zero luck selling bikinis, so they ended up having to switch to the bar tending option, and by then it was far too late. The bad news for them is, they had to endure 15 minutes of pure hot-waxing hell and THEN got eliminated, but at least they have three kick-ass vacations and a Ford Focus each as a salve. They are likable guys, and funny, and I’m glad they were able to make it this far without losing their passports this time. They accorded themselves very well.

And so, on to the twelfth and final leg. Gary/Mallory rip open their first clue to discover that Season 18’s final destination city is in Miami, Florida. Once there, they must look for their next clue at the Rickenbacker Marina at the Virginia Key. They rush to the airport with pep and their step, hoping that they can become the first parent/child team to ever win the race (and, should that happen, Gary would be the oldest winner ever). Kisha/Jen leave second, and state that winning the race would mean everything to them, for they can finally help their mother, who raised both of them on her own. Flight Time and Big Easy, as they check their bags with the other teams at the airport, contemplate leaving their bags behind once they hit American soil, figuring they won’t need them anymore. That’s a good point, the race to the finish line may indeed involve ridding oneself of encumbrances.

Roadblock. Airport, mad dash, taxis, racing to the marina. Kisha/Jen get there first with the Globetrotters right behind, and their next clue is a Roadblock. In it, one team member had to operate a forklift to move a boat into dry dock. Not an easy task, but fairly straightforward. Kisha and Flight Time take point, and Flight Time admits that way back when, he operated a much smaller lifter while working for Wal-Mart. The racers had to operate the controls, but the instructors rode along with them, so the chances of a major mishap seemed unlikely. A mishap, unfortunately, has befallen Gary/Mallory, whose cabbie is apparently not as well-versed in Miami geography as he advertised. Uh-oh. For the first time in the race, Mallory actually looks stressed out.

Flight Time parks his boat first, and he and Big Easy hop back into their cab en route to their next location: Jules’ Undersea Lodge, the only underwater hotel in the entire United States. Named after 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea author Jules Verne, the hotel opened in Key Largo in 1986, and – get this – guests have to scuba dive to get to their rooms! Wow. Not a lot of geriatric clientele, I bet. Kisha finishes a few minutes later, and Gary/Mallory are still hopelessly lost. Got to be agonizing to know that your quest for a million dollars is slipping away because of one yutz who doesn’t even know where a marina is. Finally, after numerous direction-getting, they find the marina and Gary takes the controls while Mallory tells the camera that she’s trying to stay positive. Good for her. Seriously, her optimism could power several small countries.

Roadblock #2. No Detour this time, but instead, another Roadblock. In it, the team members who didn’t drive the forklift had to use a B.O.B. Dive submarine to search the hotel’s lagoon for one of several floating treasure chests that contain their next clue, whilst being surrounded by female divers dressed as mermaids. Well, why not? Big Easy dons his XL wetsuit and so does Jen who, if you remember from last season, doesn’t care much for water. But once underwater, she relaxes, especially when she sees the underwater band. Yes, you read that right. A live band. Under the water.

Gary parks his boat, and he and Mallory head for the Lodge almost a half hour behind. Up ahead, Big Easy is the first to find a chest with a clue in it. After emerging, he and Flight Time read that they must now head to Big Pine Key and find a Sea Camp near Mile Marker 29. They head out, and Jen finds her clue not long afterward. She even cracks a smile inside her suit at the surreal-ness of her surroundings. Good on you, girl. However, the ‘ballers get some bad news when they leave the Lodge; when the went in, they cave their cabbie gas money and instructions to return, but he hasn’t yet. They have to sprint about a quarter-mile up the road before they see him returning, and it’s back to being a two-team race again.

Gary/Mallory find the Lodge, and Mallory suits up and dives into the strange lagoon. Kisha/Jen, meanwhile, find the next clue box at MM 29, and their next clue instructed them to walk across a shallow but lengthy section of the Atlantic Ocean to Horseshoe Island. Under the island’s tallest tree would be the next clue box. With the Globetrotters only a couple hundred yards behind them, Kisha/Jen make the walk as fast as they can and find the tallest tree fairly easily. The next clue instructs them to return to the mainland and take a speedboat to the city of Marathon, and then proceed on foot to the Galway Bay Mobile Home Park.

After a bit of searching, Mallory finds her next clue, but a comeback at this point is looking very remote. Still, a sopping-wet Mallory in a wetsuit is something I wish I could use as a screen-saver, it’s so cute. They start their ocean-walk after the other two teams board their speedboats and head for Marathon. And it is really close between them, I gotta say. I kind of wish the show would play B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize” over the speedboat race, but oh well, at least they haven’t dragged out “Sweet Georgia Brown” ad infinitum this season.

Kisha/Jen manage to stay ahead and reach the trailer park first. The next clue tells them that they will be wheeling a small trailer into a designated space in the park, hooking utilities up to it according to a set of instructions, and then decking it out with specified kitschy trappings (fake grass, lawn chairs, plastic flamingos, etc.). Hmm. At some point, I expected some kind of challenge where the teams had to use their memories to revisit all the places they’ve been this season; it’s a kind of wrap-it-all-up event that ties the season together, and it’s something they’ve done almost since the beginning. But either they are doing away with that practice, or they are just skipping it this time out.

It’s about now that a brisk wind picks up, making setting up the awnings rather difficult. As the trailer park denizens look on with a sense of schadenfreude, the sisters and the ‘ballers set to work. Both teams are still hammering out the finer details of the landscaping to the big-haired lady they have to impress when Gary/Mallory arrive, having made up some time. Big Easy even flirts with her, but she still poo-poos their first attempt. Kisha/Jen also don’t get it right their first time.

While Flight Time/Big Easy rush around trying to keep their fake white picket fences upright in the wind, Kisha/Jen work out that a lunch table they’ve set up is missing a soda-can-with-cozy that appears on their blueprint. When they set that up, Rose, the big-haired lady, smiles and gives them their next clue, which tells them to take a taxi to a famous bridge in the Keys called Seven Mile Bridge. Not realizing where they are screwing up, the Globetrotters take a long look at Kisha/Jen’s setup and realize that they were missing the same can-and-cozy. Within seconds, Rose hands them their next clue, and off they go as well.

Kisha/Jen’s taxi deposits them at the Seven Mile Bridge, and they immediately spot a row of adult-sized tricycles nearby. Hopping on a pair of them, they frantically pedal towards Pigeon Key, where the Finish Line awaits. Flight Time/Big Easy are minutes behind, and thus begins the final stretch. It’s a long ride, and they are riding against a heavy wind, which does not make it any easier. During uphill stretches, it becomes impossible to pedal them, so they hop off an run with the trikes.

Eventually, the Finish Line comes in sight. Atop a giant red mat and flanked by all the eliminated teams, Phil Keoghan awaits the winners. Flight Time/Big Easy now realize that Kisha/Jen are just too far ahead to be caught, and all they can do is finish with grace and style. But this moment belongs to Kisha/Jen. They run down the ramp, mount the mat, and are crowned champions. Unbelievable. Their only prize is the million dollars, which is really the only one they wanted, of course.

It’s remarkable: after sixteen seasons where not one all-girl team won, it’s now happened two seasons in a row. Of course, the producers did all they could last season to break this curse by stacking the show full of strong women (including Nat/Kat, who won) and weaker men, but this season, where every team had its strengths, it was all Kisha/Jen. They were consistent, resilient and indomitable. They finished in sixth place once, fifth place once, and never lower than fourth in every other leg. That is just terrific. Plus, something else I did not know: Kisha becomes the first openly-gay woman to win. Wow, the last twelve months of the show have been setting trends all over the place!

“Five continents, thirty cities, forty thousand miles, Kisha and Jen, you are the official winners of (the 18th season of) The Amazing Race.” They embrace, and receive a rousing round of applause from all the other teams. It’s also true, they didn’t antagonize anyone the entire time; they made friends and no enemies, they didn’t lose their cool or blow up or act offensively in any way, ever, which is also really awesome. They tell Phil that they can’t wait to tell their mother the big news, which is that she can finally start her own business. Damn, I’m gonna cry. How poetic that this should happen on Mother’s Day.

Flight Time and Big Easy come in second, and they graciously accept their narrow defeat. They praise Kisha/Jen’s effort with true sincerity. I know Big Easy came off as a bit of a loudmouth some time, but Flight Time was pure class from beginning to end. He’s the anti-Andrew Bynum.

Finally, Gary/Mallory join the party. She’s all smiles, of course, but there are a few tears as well, as she explains that she cherishes every moment she spends with her dad. Gary states that as common as it is for kids to grow up and become more independent, it just moves him how Mallory continues to want to be with him. Having now run the race in back-to-back seasons, they hope that they get to do it again some day. Me too. Having Mallory in one’s life, in whatever form, is a good thing.

Group hug. Group photo. Cord tosses his cowboy hat into the wind. (Love them.) Pull-back shot. And… out.

So, all in all, a very good season. Lots of great locations, lots of sportsmanship, very few assclownish moments. I will presume that Season 19 will be back in the fall, and so will I. Thanks for reading, y’all!

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