This week, the four remaining teams traveled from Hong Kong to South Korea. Once they landed at the Incheon International Airport, they drove to the Seung-il Bridge on the North Korean border, where they rafted down the Hantan River. At Seoul World Cup Stadium, one team member searched among 200 soldiers for the one wearing a headband with specific Korean symbols. For the detour, all the teams chose "full throttle" and had to speed skate 24 laps at the Mok-dong Ice Rink. The pit stop was the Wongudon altar.
After a meltdown, Nick and Vicki were doomed from the start with a six-hour penalty and a speed bump task. Normally, the flight to Korea would serve as a "bunching point," but Nick and Vicki were so far behind, this leg turned out to be a preview of the finale. In Korea, Jill and Thomas took first, Brook and Claire second, and Nat and Kat third.
What does this leg say about how the teams are likely to finish? With the exception of Dan and Jordan last season, recent winners have all taken first on the penultimate leg. So if recent history is any guide, Jill and Thomas should win. That said, more ancient history suggests otherwise. Ten out of the first 12 winners were not in first heading into the last leg.
Even if the placements in South Korea do not preordain the final placements, how the teams raced this leg does reveal something about how they will likely do in the finale. One important thing: as we move into the final leg, the game is changing. It's no longer about racing to avoid elimination. It is now about racing $1 million.
I haven't been following the Internet spoilers, so I don't know who actually wins. I honestly like all three teams, so I'd be happy with any of them winning. If anything, for the sake of Amazing Race history and to put to rest the "gender" issue, I'm sentimentally rooting for an all-woman team. That said – and I'm going out on a limb here – part of me thinks Jill and Thomas are going to win, edging out the two all-women teams. Here's why:
Nat and Kat. They have finished first four times, as many times as Jill and Thomas. But why do I worry about their ability to win? Their greatest strength may also be their weakness. The way they stay cool and even-keeled is a tremendous asset because they avoid serious mistakes that would lead to elimination. But avoiding mistakes doesn't usually translate into winning. You can see this in the last four legs, where Nat and Kat finished fifth, third, first and third. No question they are solid, but I'm worried about whether they have the ability to take it up a notch.
Brook and Claire. This team has the best shot to unseat Jill and Thomas, even though they've only finished first once. Brook seems willing to take the risks necessary to win. My worry? Taking risks hasn't translated into winning legs. They've only won once. Also, I'm concerned they keep making mistakes. In Korea, Brook and Claire received a penalty for taking a taxicab when the clue told them not to. This is the second time they made that error.
Jill and Thomas. Like Nat and Kat, they've finished first four times. Except for one bad leg (when they placed seventh), they have always placed in the top half. They really remind me of my sister and me. We also generally finished in the top. The bad leg may have helpd them, because it seems like Jill and Thomas learned a valuable lesson and are peaking at the right time. There is no question they are racing for first place every time, and in the last four legs, they've placed second, first, second and first. Barring a bad mistake, I think they have to be favored.
Then again, I still rooting for an all-female team to win. The women have been so strong this season. I'm happy to be proven wrong. We'll see next week!