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'The Amazing Race' recap: Trust your taxi?

December 5, 2011 |  7:49 am

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How many times, in the last episodes of "The Amazing Race," has a team lost the lead because of a taxi driver? Whether it's because they've taken a wrong turn, gotten stuck in traffic, or not driven fast enough, the wrong taxi driver can make all the difference. Seems like there is always some team staring helplessly from the back seat, wondering how, after racing around the world, it came to this. Maybe I'm a little slow, but when that happened in this episode I wondered, for the first time, how random are these taxi drivers anyway?

Four teams started out in Belgium and had to dress up in matching outfits and wander around the pre-dawn city finding out which characters they were supposed to be, from which comic. No one knew Tintin, or the Steven Spielberg 3-D version, "The Adventures of Tintin," out in time for Christmas, so they had trouble discovering they were Thomson & Thompson (alternately Johnson & Jonson and Dupont & Dupond). Andy & Tommy had the most trouble, getting Tintin right but believing they were dressed as Charlie Chaplin. Yet they all make it onto the same flight to Panama City.

The three teams that win this leg of the race will all be competing against each other in the next, final episode for the million dollars, so there's a lot of effort to avoid being last. They take a long ride in four taxis to some boats -- paddled by guides, they look like dugout canoes, but it's hard to tell because it's pitch dark. As the canoes cross a river, Jeremy & Sandy, in the lead, get stuck on a sandbar. Andy & Tommy are in first place.

They all spend the night in hammocks. In the morning, they're given tribal tattoos (temporary) in the order they arrived. Andy & Tommy are first; their next destination is a high-wire walk between two skyscrapers 35 stories above the city. They don't just have to cross it: they must cross and return. This is the kind of challenge that can stop a team in its tracks, literally. Things don't look good for Sandy, who is "terrified."

Remarkably, all the contestants do pretty well, finishing the task in the order they'd arrived. In trying to find their next clue, the cab drivers have collaborated, and they all get to the statue of Ferdinand de Lesseps (he built the Suez Canal and tried, but failed, to complete a canal through Panama). Andy & Tommy remain in first, Jeremy & Sandy and Ernie & Cindy are trading off for second and third, and Amani & Marcus, who started last, are still last.

Next they have to either go to a fish market and make deliveries or to a cobbler's and make a pair of shoes. Every team chooses shoes, except for Amani & Marcus, who decide to do the fish. But their cabdriver, who has learned from the other cabdrivers where everyone is going, takes them to the shoes. When Amani & Marcus see everyone making shoes, they run back to their cab and insist they be taken to their destination.

Andy & Tommy, who have won six challenges, are still in the lead when they get to the next clue: dancing girls in a square, who somehow contain the identity of their next destination. After puzzling it out -- they see the word "Balboa" on the girls' jewelry -- their cabdriver tells them he knows where Balboa is. They're off.

Amani & Marcus gained ground at the fish market and are the next to arrive at the dancing girls. They puzzle and puzzle, unable to figure out what the clue might be. The other teams arrive and scour the scene, taking lots of notes, including sketching the picture of a building on their jewelry (we can also see a word spelled out in the skirt of one of the dancers, but no teams spot it). As Erny & Cindy and Jeremy & Sandy race off, Amani & Marcus are still unsure.

The taxi driver has taken Andy & Tommy far off to a dock someplace. There is no clue there. They have to return all the way to the square.

Ernie & Cindy and Jeremy & Sandy are in cabs close to each other in a race to the destination, the old city. Andy & Tommy make it to the square and Tommy is the only contestant to spot the words in the dancer's skirt, pointing them to the right place.

Jeremy & Cindy are first in the footrace to the check-in. They hug! Wait, aren't they dating? Anyway, soon, Ernie & Cindy run up, and they're super-enthusiastic for Jeremy & Cindy. Then the third team runs up ... and it's Amani & Marcus! The three teams embrace and jump and scream. Marcus does a dance. They all thought Andy & Tommy would be in the final.

We did too. And the only thing that kept them from being in the final three was the poor guidance they got from their taxi driver. Hmm.

Then Marcus Pollard, the 6-foot-3, 255-pound former NFL player, gives the silliest speech of the season. "It was like David and Goliath," he says of Andy & Tommy. "They were like giants, and we were the Davids."

The three David teams will race against one another for the million dollars. Andy & Tommy, who seemed likely to win, walked away with lots of trips and two custom Mustangs, and, as Andy puts it, they got to "experience God’s awesome creation."

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jeremy & Sandy dressed as Thomson and Thompson. Credit: CBS

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