The Amazing Race 26 Recap
By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower
February 26, 2015

It's The New Dating Game, with special guest host Chuck Woolery!

Previously on The Amazing Race, a terrible team became the upset champions in a season that had three great teams, one of whom got cheated out of an appearance in the finals when they had to participate in a surfing competition against professional surfers.

There were also some super-obnoxious wrestlers who cried foul over the eventual winner’s finishing last during a non-elimination leg, possibly the most tone-deaf and hypocritical argument made in the last ten seasons. After all, the whining team had survived in the identical situation earlier in the season. Basically, what we’re saying is that we enjoyed several teams last year, but the finale left a sour taste in our mouths.

Now, we move along to season 26, which features a hook eerily similar to the one that TAR recapper Daron Aldridge proposed during his audition a couple of years ago. Complete strangers will compete against teams comprised of long-time partners. Daron may or may not be sitting out this season’s recaps as a form of protest. Okay, that’s not the reason, but he would be justified to do so. Anyway, this is a fresh take on the TAR premise, but the results seem predictable. Most of the strangers will fail, because it’s simply too demanding a contest for strangers.

We know this from a trial run a couple of seasons ago when fan favorite Bopper could not receive medical clearance so his friend Mark was forced to race with Mallory, a fellow Kentuckian. That team…was a trainwreck. In fact, we’re pretty sure that Boyd Crowder and Raylan Givens could have done a better job as a team, and they are usually pointing guns at one another. Also, they’re fictional. Still, we think they would have been a stronger tandem than Mark and Mallory. As such, we have legitimate concerns about the upcoming season, at least the first part of it until the strangers have their ranks thinned. It’s possible that a couple of duos blend well and become lifelong friends, but most of these teams will fail.

Phil Keoghan appears with a group of 17 people, an odd number, to explain the rules. There are six competing couples who have been in relationships for a respectable period of time. There are five single men who are going to repurpose the term speed dating. The men are about to be introduced to their partners, who will join them for a presumably brief run on the show. The only good news for them is that since not every team will be eliminated at once, a couple of groups should hang on long enough to know each other for a few weeks. That may be enough to negate some or possibly even most of the advantage of knowing your partner. The other real asset here is that people in new relationships always try hard to impress one another, so that could prove helpful in the short term.

Barely any mention of the existing couples is made beyond the fact that a former (or current?) member of New Kids on the Block is competing with his boyfriend. So, if you had “gay boy band” in your betting pool, it only took 15 years to pay out. The joke of the humiliation of being in a boy band is the money shot in Rock of Ages, but since few people have seen it and those who did generally disliked it, you’ll just have to trust us. What you’re expecting us to say here is that we wonder if Jonathan Knight has the right stuff, so we’ll go with that.

Libby and CJ have been dating on and off for 10 years, which means that they’re horrible for one another and they know it but they can’t stay away. Presumably, competing on The Amazing Race will lead to either a proposal or a murder-suicide. They both seem like nice people, so we’ll root for the former. With the wrestlers last year, we were rooting for the latter and have yet to give up hope.

Matt and Ashley are athletic looking hairstylists, and apparently Ashley poached Matt from her friend whom he was hitting on. She apparently badmouthed him repeatedly before claiming him for her own. Relationships are all about opportunism. Jeff & Lyda have been dating for four years. He is a pilot while she is a stewardess. They sound like they’ve been trying to get together for an extended period, but the timing only worked out a few years ago, meaning they’ve probably been sleeping together on and off for 15 years. Presumably, a lot of their former exes are nodding their heads right now, going “I knew it!”

#BlindDate begins when the focus turns to the bachelors. They have no roses to present, which is good because the entire situation feels a bit like The Amazing Race: Tinder edition. Blair, a navy surgeon, gets hooked up with Hayley, a pediatric trauma nurse. They seem perfectly matched, although Blair seems more into him at the start by hugging him and playing with her hair a bit in the flirtiest manner possible.

Vegas showgirl Jackie rushes over to Jeff, all the while noting that she prefers beefy guys. That’s good since Jeff is arguably the most muscular player this season. Jackie is not shy about the fact that she’s all about the superficial. This means that she’s pleased, while Jeff may wind up regretting this entire season. Laura runs over to Tyler, who seems quite pleased at her physical appearance. We feel like we should warn the app developer that his new ladyfriend mentions the M word, marriage, in literally her second sentence. Eep! Give her a fake number, Tyler! Wait. That probably won’t work here.

Jelani and Jenny seem more cerebral than the other blind daters. Nicknamed The Legal Team, they are both lawyers. His bio indicates that he gets compared to Taye Diggs a lot, which means Taye Diggs should sue him for defamation of character. Jenny seems quite driven while he seems laid back, so this appears to be either the best or the most combustible pairing, maybe even both. The final team is Bergen and Kurt, gay men who are immediately drawn to one another. Why? They have the same hairstyle. Call us skeptical but if the best commonality is the hair, the relationship isn’t meant to be.

Phil forces the new couples to engage in some awkward banter. Jelani scores the most points by indicating that he has the prettiest partner, which isn’t true but it’s savvy of him to say. Laura all but shouts from the rooftops that she’s happy with her partner. Run, Tyler. Run fast. And no, we’re not talking about running for the purposes of The Amazing Race. At this rate, Laura may trick a baby out of you by the third leg. Hayley & Blair come across as the shy duo, but Haley does seem to be a bit giddy at the thought of spending a few days with her new man. Hormones are running the show right now. The Amazing Race turned into The Real World/Road Rules Challenge so gradually we barely even noticed.

The big announcement is that the first leg will take the travelers to Tokyo, Japan. There is also a Survivor-esque challenge standing nearby. The first eight teams to complete this slog through mud, water and ropes will earn a spot on the first flight. The other three teams will ride the next plane and presumably battle to avoid finishing in last place. There is also an Express Pass for first place and a U-Turn on the first leg.

The 22 entrants dash to the mud pit where the challenge occurs. It is deviously set up to ruin all of the hard work the singles have put into their appearance for their blind dates. Less than 10 minutes into their experience on The Amazing Race, these 10 people have already looked their best and their worst. One woman states afterward that she looks like she has diarrhea, which is not a word anybody should ever use on a first date.

Eventually, the eight teams are determined. Everyone but Hayley & Blair, Mike & Rochelle, and Libby & CJ winds up on the first flight. As predicted, the single men all perform well. They push harder to impress their new potentials. The single women generally seem to be caught off-guard by the physical requirements of the first obstacle course. They almost universally drag. The only interesting revelation during this entire segment involves Aly & Steve. As it turns out, they are both Olympians. She is a short track speed skater while he is a bobsledder. He notes that he brought home two bronzes but in reality got the gold with her. Aly wants to be mad about the delivery of such a cheesy line, but then her involuntary smile reveals that she absolutely loves it. To a larger point, a pair of world class athletes on The Amazing Race really ups the ante for the other 20 players.

Lest we forget, the ride to the airport represents the first opportunity for conversation among the participants. The usual questions pop up such as career, education and the like, all set against the backdrop of a cheap plug for the Ford Fusion Titanium Hybrid. Hopefully, that will be the last one this season. Spoiler: it won’t be.

Jelani & Jenny talk strategy. Their major bonding point is why they decided to be lawyers, which is basically a single conversation topic. It’s early, but our guess for them is that whether sparks ignite or not, these two should mesh well as cerebral players. They will also butt heads at various points since both of them want to lead. Jeff reveals his weaknesses to new partner Jackie. He’s terrible at singing and even worse at dancing. This is problematic to Jackie, a professional dancer. We envision many training sessions in his future.

Hayley & Blair learn about one another’s medical backgrounds, which causes Blair to blather something about hoping not to have to provide emergency assistance to anyone. That should be true whether you’re a doctor or not, dude. Blair further struggles when he asks Hayley to guess at his age. She says 35, which he absorbs like a physical blow. In reality, he is 31, her second guess, but now he knows that she thinks he looks old. You (literally) asked for it, dude.

Hayley uses this opportunity to take a selfie of herself, which will apparently be a thing this year. She looks sad. We can’t decide if this is because Blair is too old or too young for her. She does add that she finds him super-attractive, and that reveal leaves him tongue-tied. Then, she talks about how she’s a blonde, and you can freeze-frame the moment when he regrets everything.

Once they reach the airport food court, she refers to it as their first date. Then, she relays a tidbit of wisdom from her life experiences. “If you tell me you have a wife and you’re on a date with me, I think I have every right to leave.” Blair asks how many times that has happened. Hayley looks at the camera and firmly adds, “Twice.” We suspect that’s code for eight times. Blair looks around wistfully as if hoping that someone there will suddenly require the medical emergency that would force him to treat them rather than continue this leg. He has performed the requisite calculation and tabulated that the hot does not in fact outweigh the crazy.

Laura & Tyler’s car trip is perhaps the oddest. Laura reveals that she has trained in psychology. She proceeds to evaluate Tyler based upon his behavior so far. As a reminder, that’s roughly 15 minutes consisting of a hug, an obstacle course, and a bit of driving. Tyler is apparently doing well according to her. The opposite is not true since Tyler now realizes he has been paired with a super-judgmental partner. Go with God, our son.

Back to Hayley, the breakout star of the first episode! Now, she is meeting the fellow contestants! Jonathan reveals to her that he was in a band in the 1980s. She asks if she would know any songs, and he says, “Step by Step.” Hayley breathlessly exclaims, “NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK!” Ladies and gentlemen, a true fan! She indicates that she saw them in concert with Backstreet Boys, which must have been a relatively recent show. In fact, Wikipedia indicates that it occurred in 2011, so Hayley is a REAL fan. She adds that Jonathan’s band was much better, and he excitedly tells the on-looking Blair that she is a keeper. Dr. Dreamy, if you’d like a second opinion…

Kurt and Bergen continue to struggle for camera time. Kurt reveals that he is a beauty pageant trainer from Northern Kentucky. Also, he has never been in a serious relationship. That’s the last we see of him for a while. Kurt and Bergen must be deadly dull. Rather than waste further time on them, the show cuts to CJ and Lebya, the on again, off again couple for the past decade. Lebya indicates that they’re getting married soon, which seems like news to CJ. When pressed, he adds, “No comment.” Lebya, maybe you should hook up with Laura. She, too, is in a hurry to get married.

There is virtually nothing shown of the flight to Japan, which is odd since that’s the best time to explore the new dynamic of each relationship. Our money is on Jackie and Jeffrey joining the Mile High Club. They both seem like the “take it when you want it” type. All the show chooses to air is Laura & Tyler stating that the prize is a million dollars before Laura adds, “And love…” Grab a parachute and jump off the plane, Tyler! It’s not too late!

That’s it for part one of the recap. Check back tomorrow for the elimination portion of the leg, which should be a lot less flirty.