Amazing Race 12, episode 11 recap (finale!)

After 10 cities, 4 continents, nearly 30,000 miles, and the eliminated racers cheering on an airport tarmac this episode of Amazing Race 12 truly felt like a race to the finish. Besides getting my heart rate up a bit with wanting either Nick & Don to win, or TK & Rachel, it gave me a push to put Alaska on my go-to-soon list.

As tense as the teams felt, this was an episode when thrill was the theme and whoever thinks up these tasks should get a bonus. I loved it.

First, there were the sweeping shots of Taipei and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Plaza where the teams left off in episode 10. Then, next stop, Anchorage, Alaska. Christina & Ron, with their first place edge. pulled a smooth move at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport –a good tip to keep in mind. After booking their seats on China Airlines, Ron asked if they could get an upgrade to the lounge. Sweet. They used it for the Internet to find the address of their first stop in Anchorage–6th Avenue Outfitters.

Don’t these folks ever drink coffee? While Christina was doing a Web search, I would have been looking for coffee. I mean, they already knew when their flight was leaving. They already had their assigned seats at the front of the plane because Christina asked for them so they could get off the plane first. What’s the hurry? It’s not like they enjoyed the lounge at all.

In the meantime, it was amusing to watch Don & Nate and TK & Rachel wonder and worry about the whereabouts of Christina & Ron since the dynamic duo was no where in sight. Ah, the sigh of relief when the two showed up, trotting down the steps from their lame lounge experience. As what happened with many of the legs of the race, the teams ended up on the same flight–and as with most situations in life, the worry was for naught.

Up to this point, we also got a recap about what was going on in each team’s mind. “My dad and I are stronger and smarter,” said Christina. “Staying calm…to slow down and do one task at a time,” said Rachel. “To have respect for my grandfather,” said Nick. Christina’s little comment dropped her off my “who I want to win” list. One needs to keep in mind, pride comes before a fall, particularly on national television.

Ron & Christina did keep their first place lead for a long, long while. As TK remarked, “I’ve seen Ron run like a Ninja.” Ron never did let that hernia get to him. Matter of fact, I don’t think he said the H word once this episode, even when he was scaling up the sheer ice cliff with the aid of ice climbing gear.

Speaking of gear. Here’s where Nick & Don had a big heartbreak. All teams got to 6th Avenue Outfitters without a problem, but Nick didn’t read the clue carefully enough and left the gear they needed behind at the store. At the first Detour, discovered at Ship Creek Boat Launch, they either had to fillet cod–huge, huge fish, or grab crab. One of the cod held a clue inside. One of the crabs had a marking on its shell that would lead them to a clue.

Ron’s reaction to filleting fish was a hoot. “This isn’t an easy task for a city slicker…This is a lot of nasty guts,” he said. But he chopped away with determination that paid off since he and Christiana found the clue before TK and Rachel had jumped into the crab tanks to start grabbing.

Poor Don & Nick. Once they got to the dock and discovered they needed gloves and a knife, they had to hustle back to the outfitters to pick up their gear. Oh, the horror of traveling when it’s discovered something important has been left behind. What could have ruined everything wasn’t that bad. Don had only one stern remark for his careless grandson, dropping the lecture pretty quickly. I like that guy. Besides, the outfitters couldn’t possibly have been all that far away or TK and Rachel spent way too much time in the crab tank before switching to spilling fish guts. In no time at all Don, with tools now in hand, slit open that fish like a pro and found the clue placing Nick and him close on the heels of TK & Rachel.

About this point, I noticed that the Amazing Race music had really picked up the pace. The music was racing as the teams raced in speed boats up 2-Mile River to the glacier that each team member had to climb up using climbing paraphernalia in order to get to their next clue. “This is awesome!” shouted TK during the speed boat ride. For the audience there was some wonderful shots of the landscape as the teams zipped between the river banks and by what looked like small islands of ice.

Christina had the hardest time with the glacier climbing task and called out a tremulous “Daddy,” as if Ron could give her a hand up or come down to get her or something. He was pleased as punch with himself over his own climb since he’s afraid of heights and quipped that maybe he ought to take lessons. Finally Christina hauled herself up and over, maintaining their first place spot as they climbed into a helicopter.

The teams’ helicopter rides to their next stop, Merrill Field afforded them a gorgeous view of miles of Alaskan wilderness. “Sigh.” I did think, “My, this leg of the race isn’t particularly environmentally friendly,” but that thought left as quickly as it came. Once in Merrill Field the teams had to take a taxi to Goose Lake Park, which is back in Anchorage. Here, one person from each team had to do a task with incredibly confusing directions. I tried, but I couldn’t keep up.

Here’s the idea of it. There were items from each leg of the race. The team member had to gather 10 items together, but they had to be in a certain combination. If they got that combination right, their next clue popped up out of a black box. It reminded me a bit of the party game where there are assorted items on a tray. People look at the items for one minute, then the items are taken away. Whoever can remember the most items wins.

Christina’s smarts didn’t help her much as she wandered among the chicken, donkey, bowl of camel’s milk, vaulting pole, bicycle, gas tanks, U-Turn sign, Blackberry, stilts, and a cleaning guy from Japan. Yes, three cleaning guys from Japan were there (one for each team). Eventually she resorted to swearing, i.e.,. “Africa frickin’ and “Netherlands frickin” etc. etc. She even said the F word once–there was a bleep in place of what she said–and I started liking her more again. Then she said a “Lord help me” and I thought, “Yep, I’ve been there too.”

In the meantime, Rachel kept at this daunting memory game and Nick worked on his. Don turned to Ron while they watched and said, “No sense me doing this. I’d be there forever” while Christina wondered how she’d ever get the donkey up on the platform.

Finally, Rachel figured out the combination of items and the clue popped up. The cleaning man was in the mix of items because he is an animal in case anyone wonders what humans have in common with donkeys. I didn’t quite figure out the combination myself, but this was a brilliant way for the Amazing Race to give a recap of the other episodes. At one point Rachel looked at the pole and said, “I don’t remember that,” and I’m thinking, as the show played black and white footage of her vaulting over the ditch (I think it was her) using a pole, how could anyone forget Don stripped down to his underwear?

So, there is Rachel & TK vaulting ahead while Christina is still praying and Nick looks up in disbelief that his brain is not functioning as well as he’d hoped. At this point I figured Nick & Don were not coming in first. There was still one more stop to go. Taking a taxi, the teams had to head to “the Cook’s eye view of the Sleeping Lady” which is a statue of Captain James Cook in downtown Anchorage.

There, they got another clue that told them to head on foot to the salmon hooker, a statue of a fish. That clue told them to head to the finish at Girdwood Airport. There was a bit of excitement since Christina figured out the item combination not long after Rachel did but TK and Rachel kept their lead and finished first with their eliminated fellow racers clapping and yelling for them. TK’s first comment, as he’s clutching his head at the finish line, “I can’t believe it. This is freaking me out.”

I’m not sure what I’d do if I realized I had just won a half a million dollars with my significant other laying claims to the same amount. Even after winning the race, those two stayed calm. “She’s petite, but she’s tough,” said TK. “TK’s my best friend,” said Rachel.

It does seem that everyone who finished in the top three got what they most needed from this traveling sprint around the world. Christina & Ron got a better relationship like they wanted. “I learned a lot. How to become a better person,” said Ron. Christina agreed that their new improved relationship–their friendship is worth more than a million dollars. Nick and Don wanted quality time, which they certainly got. “I got everything I wanted from it and more,” said Nick. I thought about the tattoos that he and Don now have to always remind them of Italy. That’s certainly more than they wanted.

Despite not getting a million dollars, I’d be thrilled if I were the other two teams. Each of them got to go around the world on someone else’s dime and see things they never would have seen otherwise–plus a helicopter ride in Alaska. How cool is that? Plus, a million may be more aggravation than it’s worth–maybe. Who knows what’s in store for TK & Rachel except for some talk show appearances, new cars and a house possibly? Best thing of all about this race, Don proved that if you’re pushing 70, don’t let that stop you. Get your bag and go.

**All pictures from the Amazing Race Web site.