It figures that, in the midst of the tropical splendor of Hawaii, the final episode of "The Amazing Race" would come down to two very Wisconsin skills — sledding and bowling.
And it was enough to give Madison's Dave and Rachel Brown the edge — and the million dollars — as they won "Amazing Race 20," the season finale aired Sunday on CBS. It was a commanding win — the Army helicopter pilot and his wife, who works at Epic Systems in Verona, won eight legs of the race, a series record.
The couple had been separated for a year while Dave Brown was serving in Iraq, and decided while Dave on R&R in Australia that they'd apply to be on the show. The couple said the experience proved to be a good way to reconnect after so much time apart.
"When he was over there, we had no communication, it was the worst year ever," a teary Rachel said at the end of Sunday's show. "I feel that this race has really brought us closer together."
"I have a new appreciation for who my partner is," Dave Brown said.
The show was filmed months ago, but the Browns were contractually prevented from telling anyone how well they had done. In an interview with 77 Square before the season started, Dave alluded to how difficult keeping the secret was — although he didn't let on how big a secret they were keeping.
"Being a military intelligence officer and having been in possession of some classified type information, retaining information is second nature,” Dave said. “But something that you’re truly excited about — being on the show — it has been difficult to harness.”
Sunday's show actually combined the final two legs of the race into one two-hour episode, and it did not start off well for Rachel and Dave. Having to travel from India to Japan by plane, bus, train and ferry, the couple was the only team to just miss the last ferry of the night.
Luckily, the first clue wasn't to arrive until sunrise, so they started the leg on equal footing with the other three remaining teams. The Japan leg required the teams to compete in a wacky Japanese-style game show involving conveyor belts, hanging rubber chickens, and a lot of skinned elbows and knees.
Then, in a "Detour" challenge, they were the only team who opted not to take part in a bingo game that required teams to identify different kinds of sushi. Instead, they had to convince people on the street to have their pictures taking in giant sumo wrestler cutouts, a task that proved suited for the gregarious Browns. ("I feel like a carny!" Dave said.
The couple won Leg 7, and added a trip to New Zealand (host Phil Keoghan's home turf) to their pile of prizes. But the final leg was next, kicking off with a 12-hour flight to Honolulu.
Teams had to solve a riddle to find a pair of twin 45-story towers, shimmy up one side of the building, spot the next clue on the horizon, then rappel face-down the other side of the building.
One of the sweetest moments of the episode came when Rachel, looking down at Dave rappelling below, yelled "Honey, you look like my superhero!" "I am," Dave responded. Aw. Some show watchers have knocked the couple for bickering, with Dave sometimes treating the bubbly Rachel as a buck private rather than a partner. But the devotion between the two has always been obvious, and there have been plenty of other bickerers on the show. Beefy border agents Art and JJ may need some couples therapy when all this is over.
After shaving some ice with a samurai sword and playing lifeguard on a Waverunner, Dave and Rachel cruised to the finish line. It all seemed too easy.
And it was! They had overlooked a Roadblock challenge, and had to retrace their steps and find it. It cost them valuable time, and when they got to the final Roadblock, Art and JJ were already there. What looked like a rout had suddenly turned into a nailbiter.
Luckily, their Sconnie skills came into play. The challenge was a two-parter based on native Hawaiian warrior rituals. A teammate had to slide down a steep grassy hill on a long, slim wooden sled, and then roll a stone disc 50 feet into a goal. Geez, why not make them grill a brat as well and make it a Badger State trifecta?
While Art and JJ struggled over and over with mastering the tricky balance of the sled, Rachel cruised to the bottom on her second attempt, hit the goal, and the couple went back to the finish line. And, this time, a million dollars.