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'The Amazing Race' finale recap: the best premarital counseling

December 12, 2011 |  6:17 am


Three teams left Panama in Sunday's final episode of "The Amazing Race" knowing that by the time they reached their destination, one pair would have earned the million-dollar prize.

All teams flew to Atlanta, where Amani and Marcus live. “We’re going to the crib, baby.” says Marcus. “It’s home court advantage.” But not so fast: Marcus gets hung up on their first challenge.

With Ernie and Cindy in the lead, the teams arrive at a flight training center in Atlanta. One will pilot and the other will co-pilot the training version of a Lear Jet, a flight simulator that responds to their cockpit commands. "I wanted to be captain," says Jeremy, with the same dude-ish enthusiasm he had for racing a Mustang. "I wanted to fly that plane." They have to fly and land; Jeremy and Sandy finish first, on their first try. Ernie and Cindy land it on their second attempt. Marcus, in the pilot's seat, fails on his first try and skids off the runway on his second. This is not good.

In the lead, Jeremy and Sandy get directions to their next location: it's a former residence called "The Dump." We know that it's the home of Margaret Mitchell, where she wrote "Gone with the Wind." They don't, and when they get directions from a man in a pickup who tells them that's it's near the old Home Depot, it means a huge delay. They find The Dump: it's a large furniture store. They wander around among couches and bedroom sets, looking for a clue box that's not there.

Ernie and Cindy call someone who directs them correctly. Inside Margaret Mitchell's house, a vintage Remington typewriter awaits. To move on, one team member has to type out their next clue; there's a model, but there's also a trick. The typewriter has no #1 key, and they have to figure out to use the lowercase “L” in its place.

Meanwhile, still in the flight simulator, Marcus and Amani pray as they try a third time. Again he lands and skids off the runway. You can tell she’s upset, but she doesn’t yell. She’s nice. They keep trying, and he keeps skidding off the runway. “I’m sorry baby,” he tells her. “There’s no reason to be sorry,” she says. “It’s hard for a reason. Otherwise there’d be tons of pilots.” And he fails again. As the other teams move forward, they're stuck in the pretend cockpit, trying to land again and again. Twelve times. He finally succeeds on the 12th. “You did it. I’m proud of you,” she says, genuinely smiling. That would be a lesson in how a good, supportive relationship works to some of the other teams, particularly Jeremy and Sandy, who spent much of the season getting angry at each other. But only Amani and Marcus are still at the flight simulator.

Jeremy and Sandy have figured out they're in the wrong place, and call someone who sends them to the Margaret Mitchell house. Ernie finishes his typing task shortly before they arrive.

There is another puzzle; the teams must figure out what this numerical code means: 44-751-74. It's Hank Aaron's uniform number, his home-run total, and the year he hit the last one; they head to Turner Field. There one team member has to rope climb, (or is it rappel?) along an enormous map of the world. They have to hook a red rope through each country they traveled to, in order. Cindy dangles and quickly threads the red rope, so she and Ernie finish before Jeremy and Sandy arrive.

If this seems like a lock, it is. The show edits in some taxi-driver confusion toward the end as Ernie and Cindy and Jeremy and Sandy all head toward the final check-in, but Ernie and Cindy, in first place for a while now, bust through the gates on their own. "Oh my God! Oh my God!" Cindy shouts as they run past the other contestants, who clap in the show's traditional final check-in bonanza. They win the million bucks! Cindy is crying-happy, pressing her face into Ernie's chest. He beams.

When they catch their breath, they explain, at Phil's prompting, that they want to do something philanthropic with their winnings. “We would really like to create an organization that can multiply the million and help people in need,” Cindy says, and while that's not much of a plan, she's euphoric and giddy and it's certainly generous-hearted for an engaged couple.

“I think the race is the ultimate premarital counseling,” says Cindy. “It’s been a really strong bonding experience between the to of us.”

When Jeremy and Sandy check in second, they say much the same thing, but I don't quite believe them. They never touch. They hug the other contestants but not each other. “Our relationship is going on,” Jeremy says. Sure, that's why he shook Phil's hand before hugging the girlfriend he ran the race with.

Much later, Amani and Marcus finally make it to the check-in. After they do, Amani says, “You’re not going to win at everything, but whatever you do, do not quit.” Former NFLer Marcus compliments his wife. “She's smarter than any quarterback I played with, and tougher than any linebacker,” he says. They might not have been the winning team, but as teams go, they certainly were one of the best.


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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: "The Amazing Race" finalists Ernie and Cindy, Marcus and Amani, and Jeremy and Sandy. Credit: CBS