Season Finale: Who Won The Amazing Race Season 16?

“Who Won The Amazing Race Season 16?”

May 9th, 2010

I don’t know if it’s because this season of Survivor has been so full of twists and turns, or whether it’s just the format showing its age, but I really can’t say I was invested in the conclusion to The Amazing Race’s sixteenth season (or in the episodes leading up to it, as I’ve fallen away from reviewing the show). The show has remained engaging this year – I haven’t stopped watching, after all – but it just hasn’t felt like “must-see” TV. The people running the race didn’t seem to have a lot of energy, and there wasn’t the sort of tension that we’re used to seeing on the race.

If I were to look at just the teams themselves, this finale seems pretty exciting: you have Jet and Cord as the fan favourites who have remained endearing and positive throughout the race, you have Dan and Jordan as a scrappy team who have a good story (Dan participating so that Jordan can achieve his dream of running the race), and you have Brent and Caite as the young and attractive team that we tend to root against. However, the show never quite figured out how to tap into these various roles, and spent so much time on Caite’s self-centered attempts to prove herself to the world that they missed creating any other narratives. I understand that Carol and Brandy were bitchy enough that they needed to be featured, but I don’t feel like the series’ narratives have been well drawn in the editing room this year (which isn’t something I’d normally say about the show).

However, tonight’s finale still managed to bring enough tension to keep me on the edge of my seat, as there were enough strategic moves and enough clever bits of race logic to keep things interesting as the race gets its sixteenth winners – unfortunately, the episode stumbles at the finish line, stumbling with late clues and allowing the drama of the race to spoil the ending.

At the beginning of the finale this becomes a race between two teams, and conveniently the two teams came into conflict with one another early in the episode. With Brent and Caite getting lost before they could get their first clue on the ground in San Francisco, it becomes a race between Jet and Cord and Dan and Jordan, with the former teach chasing after the latter made a brilliant move to get up to first class as the plane was landing in the city. It’s a lead that they were never going to give up: without a major mistake from the team, there really wasn’t an opportunity for any of the race’s tasks to give Jet and Cord time to catch up, especially with an absolutely ridiculous memory challenge that wasn’t even really worth our time. Accordingly, Dan and Jordan are the winners of The Amazing Race.

I’m content with this result: while Dan’s temper got the better of him at certain points along the race, and Jordan’s behaviour here was perhaps a little bit suspect, it was all in the interest of winning the race, and considering they were successful it’s hard to really criticize them. The story of Dan doing this for his brother, allowing a superfan to live his dream, is something that never really emerged during the season thanks to their weak performances earlier in the season. They were so mediocre throughout that they were never able to emerge as personalities, and it proves that someone running the race intelligently (not pushing too far, staying away from elimination, turning it on at the end) isn’t actually that pleasant to watch even when there’s a story at play. The “dreams come true” part of the narrative works for me, but it’s not like Jordan’s dream was to see the world: it was to play and win the Amazing Race, which just isn’t quite as endearing.

By comparison, Jet and Cord were the kind of team who were in it for the experience with one another rather than the game itself, which is just something we like to root for. They were always positive, always pleasant, and they thanked people as they finished in second place. In some ways, it’s an ideal scenario for the race, as they’re such wonderfully gracious losers that we feel good that they simply enjoyed their time together as brothers and friends. Still, I loved the idea that they wanted to win the race because, in their sport, it’s impossible to share a title with someone else: moments like that make me frustrated that they didn’t quite have the killer instinct to go with their classy nature, refusing to step through Jordan at the ILM challenge and not thinking of making the same move and getting up to First Class (although admittedly there was a chance that they tried and failed to mimic their move once they discovered their absence). Either way, the race was often enjoyable based entirely on their presence, so I’m sad to see they weren’t rewarded with a victory.

As for Brent and Caite, the leg did not play to their strengths: they got overly frustrated with a bad cab driver, and even left their passports behind at ILM, so it was like a greatest hits of their race mistakes. Yes, they improved towards the end, but there was nothing to indicate that Caite was beyond marginally intelligent, or that she should be so proud to be the last woman standing. Rather, it proved that young male/female teams who are quite athletic get far in this race, and for all of their frustrations they came together pretty well towards the end. Dating models are a dime a dozen on this show, and they were unpleasant enough that I was legitimately pleased to see them struggling, and to see them fall right back to last after catching up at ILM.

For most of the leg, I’d say that this was pretty well designed: there were some places which seemed somewhat tough to discern, and it gave the teams some pause and forced them to be resourceful. However, at the end of the leg, things became far too simple. The final memory task, which Jordan prepared for so extensively, was the most ridiculously easy in the race’s history: teams only had to remember the order in which teams were eliminated, rather than interpreting symbols or anything similar. It’s a bizarre circumstance with absolutely no frustration, and it meant that there was no way for the end of the leg to make any sort of difference. I know that sometimes everything coming down to a memory task seems a bit bizarre, and I’m fine with not making them ridiculously hard, but this was insulting, and the Candlestick clue which followed it was way too obvious to be seen as some sort of challenge (even if the scenes earlier in the episode told us that the pit stop was at the stadium).

But that wasn’t the leg’s greatest flaw: the most problematic thing about this leg was the decision to give into the ridiculous vitrol which Brandy brought to this race. Her diatribes against Caite were unpleasant within the race itself, where you could argue that it was the heat of the moment and that the adrenaline was contributing to her behaviour. However, here her behaviour was entirely out of line, and yet it was something the show encouraged: Phil raised the issue hoping it would create altercation, or at least hoping for reconciliation (Caite, after all, was trying to apologize). However, at that stage, U-Turns should be in the past: it’s a race, but people don’t understand that, so why allow something that is supposed to celebrate the teams and their accomplishments to devolve into a rehash of earlier troubles? It was a ridiculous decision from the show, and it wasn’t something I wanted to return to, at all.

Sure, it definitively tells us that Brandy is a completely horrible human being, so at least that’s been confirmed, but that took away from whatever pleasantness we got from Dan and Jordan’s somewhat muted victory. It was yet another bizarre moment which takes us out of the episode and convinces me that this season just didn’t come together. I don’t know if the race needs to be revamped, or if they just need to avoid casting horrible/boring people, but this finale just struggled its way to the finish line, squandering any of the tension or excitement they tried to bring to the table.

Cultural Observations

  • A nice little cameo from The Mother Hips, although they didn’t really get to do much of anything – they’re on my “I know them from Rock Band!” list.
  • I always love a good Star Wars cameo, so the ILM visit was a lot of fun – throw in a wonderful Admiral Ackbar bust for an obligatory “It’s a Trap,” and you’ve got my vote. I also very much enjoyed Cord driving Dan crazy by sending out fake instructions – sure, it was petty, but I love how Cord was completely fun about it and Dan just couldn’t handle it.
  • The show tried to make it seem like we really needed to know how Jeff/Jordan and Louie/Michael felt about their race experience, but honestly? I don’t care. And I should, for at least one team.
  • The last time the race ended in San Francisco there was a big thing about how hard it was to get a cab – this time, it seemed comparatively easy, but they did show Dan and Jordan struggling, so we’ll see how far apart the teams ended up being when the post-show interviews come in.
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