12/11/2011 AT 10:20 PM ET
It was bound to be a season of high drama on the The Amazing Race.
The teams hadn’t even left the States at the start of the competition when a missing-passport mishap threatened to send one pair of competitors home before their race across the world even began.
The winning duo covered four continents, 20 cities and nearly 40,000 miles in their quest to beat out two other fiercely competitive teams – but not before the season’s biggest shocker last week with the elimination of Olympian snowboarders Tommy Szechin, 31, and Andy Finch, 30, who seemed to have a lock on the win after snagging six leg-victories.
Their elimination left the $1 million competition up to dating couple Jeremy Cline, 35, a real estate broker, and Sandy Draghi, 33, a nurse practitioner; project manager Ernie Halvorsen, 29 and his fiancée Cindy Chiang, 30, a brand manager; and retired NFL tight end Marcus Pollard, 39, and his wife, business owner Amani, 36. Keep reading to find out who won:
It was Ernie Halvorsen and Cindy Chiang!
“This has been the best premarital counseling that you could ever get,” Chiang said after claiming victory. “I can’t think of anything better in life than to have a husband that could be so supportive and caring even when I’m at my low.”
She added: “It’s really been an incredible experience.”
After making the trip back to the U.S. from Panama to Atlanta, emotions soared during the first challenge of the episode: The competitors would once again embrace their jet-setting spirit – this time, at the FlightSafety Internatonal Center, where they had to land an aircraft from the altitude of 2,500 feet using a flight simulator.
A series of crash landings on this challenge would cost Pollard and his wife the win, even though they seemed to have a clear advantage in Atlanta, the city they call home.
But Cline and Draghi, who had capped off the previous episode with their first first-place victory, continued their winning streak with a successful landing on their first attempt.
Their lead was short-lived.
Gone with the Wind
Next up, teams had to make their way to the house Margaret Mitchell penned the 1936 classic Gone with the Wind.
The clue: Go to the residence formerly called “The Dump.” Cline and Draghi initially headed to a discount-furniture store called The Dump, which allowed Chiang and Halvorsen to sneak ahead.
At Mitchell’s house, the competitors had to type the route information on an old-fashioned typewriter. Now in the lead, Chiang and Halvorsen were the first to make it to the next stop on the final leg: Turner Field, where a commemoration of Atlanta Braves legend Hank Aaron’s 715 homeruns revealed the second-to-last challenge.
Before they could head to the finish line, they would have to take a trip down Memory Lane. Suspended from rope, a member of each team mapped out their race around the world on an oversized map – from Taiwan to Indonesia, Thailand, Malawi, Demark, Belgium, Panama and, lastly, back home to the United States.
Second to cross the finish line at Atlanta’s historic Swan House mansion: Cline and Draghi, who had just made the “slow transition from friends to dating” before getting on the show, according to Cline. Pollard and Amani made a third-place finish.