Mother and son team Denise and James Earl came on to the season intent on reconciling their relationship – James Earl came out as gay and said relationship was shattered upon that revelation, but what better place to reconnect than racing around the world, visiting exotic locations many could never even dream of? While that in itself is an exciting story, Denise and James Earl’s stay on The Amazing Race was eclipsed by an even better one – mainly, the revelation that Denise is the most embarrassing mom in the world.
Nothing was out of Denise’s realm of motherly possibility, be it slathering on lipstick to meet Phil before the first pitstop, yelling that James Earl came out of her belly in front of mixed company, having an extended squabble over the correct way to carry a wooden horse, giving their team a time penalty for interfering in a Roadblock in the way only a mother could, excitedly assaulting her glider pilot as she looked for her clue, or even coaxing things out of her fellow racers such as getting Joey to admit his mother still does his laundry. Nearly all of Denise’s moments were not only fun and light-hearted, but also highly entertaining and wonderful to watch.
Even going back to the reconciliation story, they finally did reconcile after the years of difference between them in one of the saddest elimination chats of the season. Seeing a mother overcome her fears and initial prejudices to reunite with her estranged gay son may not be the usual affair for reality television, but was without a doubt one of the most heartwarming stories of the year, and it’s for all these reasons and more Denise & James Earl are standouts for the year.