Give the woman a hug, Phil!
When a person is standing in front of you drenched in salt water, quivering from the kind of exhaustion that only dancing for judgment can bring, and weeping because she just found out that four teams are going to the Finals and she’s on the fourth team, and she’s doing all of this for her son back home, you give the woman a hug!
But maybe Rochelle doesn’t really even need Phil’s linen-lined embrace, because she just might have a million dollars to comfort her in 24 hours or so, as the 11th leg of the race in Peru continues right into the Final Leg in Dallas at the end of this episode. With this season, there is just no telling which team is going to pull ahead. Going into the 11th leg, we’re left with one previously established couple and three blind date couples; and as much as all four remaining teams pretty easily fit into a similar Yo-Pro-type category, this is a dynamic group of oddballs heading into the Finals. They all size up each other’s chances at the end of the episode, and it’s probably time we do the same, without the bias of having each of these teams in between us and a suitcase of cash:
Team Medical: Team SoCal say multiple times tonight that there’s no way Hayley and Blair will be beating them because of their constant bickering, with Tyler going so far as to say, “To lose a million bucks to Blair and Hayley is not going to sit well.” I’ve watched enough Survivor confessionals to know that almost definitely means that Tyler will be losing a million dollars to Hayley and Blair. Team Medical are still a terrible match, but they’ve somehow managed to figure out how not to kill each other, and tonight are super supportive through all of the challenges. And with both of them having already faced the ultimate TAR adversity test for 11 legs in a row: Hayley. (“We’ve got this. We got it. And you’re going to listen, right?”) Just for the insane narrative of their team growth, they’re probably my top pick to win.
Team SoCal: Logically, Team SoCal is the team to bet on. Blair says that they can only do well when they’re in the lead, which they’re not right now, but they also seem to be the strongest team physically, and stay the calmest under pressure (sans all that potato licking last week). Their downfall is that they’ve gotten a little cocky about their own strength in the last few weeks, which also happen to be the weeks that they’ve fallen to the bottom of the lineup. If they can pay a little more attention to detail and use their strength to their advantage, it’s their game to lose.
The Lawyers: Are just probably not going to win, not with the edit they’ve received. But after a couple of weeks of bickering in the beginning of the race, I’m glad they’ve come around to working well together (though Team SoCal says they’re constantly lost). I’ve noticed that they talk to each other like two co-workers who have just completed a successful project and feel obligated to go out and get drinks afterward… there are other pairs I’d rather see win this together.
Team Truck Stop: Ah, the most adorable of underdogs. I really do not know how Mike and Rochelle are still in the race—I mean, I had a feeling that this season would have a Final Four again, but it’s pretty incredible how these two have found their strength at just the right times to keep making it one step further in the race. Mike and Rochelle say that the thing they have over the teams is knowing how to be at the bottom and fight their way to the top, which since they’re still at the bottom, hasn’t exactly happened yet—but this final chance to do it is the only fight to the top that really matters
NEXT: On with the race![pagebreak]
With that little preview of what to expect from the four teams left, let’s get into the thick of tonight’s leg of the race, which has to be the most physically strenuous string of challenges we’ve seen in a while. Sure, there was a single Detour option to dance, but that was sandwiched in between a two-mile mural run and seated surfing on a heavy pile of sticks, all in 95-degree weather. And that’s if you didn’t choose the Detour where you have to make giant bricks. Good—these people are up for the TAR champion title, they need to earn their keep!
The first step is making their way from Otuzco back to Trujillo, Peru, home of South America’s largest mosaic, at over two miles long. The teams have to track down a payaso (clown) who gives them a zoomed in picture of the portion of the two-mile mosaic that they need to identify. Team Medical, with the Lawyers shortly behind them have a pretty big lead on the other two teams because of their finishing times in the last leg, and both teams also seem to have no trouble tracking down the tiny TAR colored tile within one of the birds along the wall. After peeling off the red and yellow sticker, returning it to the clown, and dealing with his shenanigans, Team Medical is zooming off past Phil—“Oh, Phil”—to the next clue.
Things aren’t so easy for Teams SoCal and Truck Stop. For one, Tyler is having exactly none of that clown while they’re fighting it out for third place; and on the Truck Stop side of things, the start of this leg is a bonafide disaster. The niceness that served them so well in the last leg, in this leg, means that Mike and Rochelle don’t just say, “Smell ya later!” when their taxi starts making terrible noises the second they get in it, and ends up breaking down on the highway. Their driver does at least track down a replacement for them fairly quickly, but it’s enough time for SoCal to get out in front of them, a lead that they’re never able to get back.
Because there’s not exactly a right or wrong choice when it comes to the DETOUR: SHAKE YOUR HIPS or MAKE SOME BRICKS—both are difficult, and only the first official challenge of the leg. Team Medical heads straight to Make Some Bricks, where the teams must make 12 perfectly shaped adobe bricks to help preserve the 900-year-old Chan Chan ruins, and then deliver 12 dried bricks in a wheelbarrow to a foreman an undisclosed distance away. Multiple teams compare making the bricks to baking (if you were baking a 12 20-pound cakes, I guess) in that you have to roll the clay in sand, coat the box in sand, and then mold the clay into the box. But the molding process is more “forcefully plopping enough clay into the box to fill it all at once” than “spooning almost enough in there and then licking a quarter of it off the spatula.” Just speaking from personal cake-baking experience here.
Blair and Hayley initially get nine of their 12 bricks stomped, but stay calm, and once they get the hang of it, making nine more perfectly rectangular bricks is no problem. The problem comes in hauling the dry bricks down the extremely long path to where the foreman and their next clue is waiting for them. Team Medical chooses to take two trips with six bricks each, with Hayley occasionally taking over the wheelbarrow when Blair gets tired. When Team SoCal comes along later, Tyler takes all 12 bricks at once, thinking they only have to wheel them to the gateway of the section of the ruins they’re in, only to get to the opening and see the mile-long road waiting for them: “And then the door to hell opened up.” He still carries all 12 bricks at once with much effort, but when they’re delivering the bricks, Laura breaks once, and they have to make a second trip anyway. It. Looks. Exhausting.
NEXT: Dance, if you want to…[pagebreak]
Perhaps Shake Your Hips is less physically strenuous, but it seems to take just as much time. The Marinera is a romantic couple’s dance that’s as much about the emotion as it is about getting the correct steps. The choreography doesn’t seem to give Jenny and Jelani much trouble after a few run through rounds, but most of their instructor’s suggestions sound like this: “Look at her—smile! Look at her! Smile. Try to kiss her!” When they finally get it right, Jenny reminds Jelani that he now has three dances under his belt to take back to the clubs in New York.
But if I saw Jelani dancing the Marinera in a New York club, I think my response might be akin to Mike and Rochelle’s after they leave the brick detour in favor of the dancing one: “Holy Crap.” Mike and Rochelle have never proved themselves to be particularly good at keeping up with a lot of steps, but I still think the dancing route was in their best interest, if only they hadn’t stopped by Make Some Bricks first, where they attempted to use the brick box like a cookie cutter rather than a baking pan. Like the Lawyers before them, Team Truck Stop picks up the choreography fairly quickly, but it takes them multiple tries to get the performance aspect of the dance right, mainly because Rochelle can’t fake smile. And that’s probably because she’s having a terrible time. She’s tired and she’s stressed, and now she has to be passionate—but after a water break and pep talk #99 from Mike, she steps back out and they nail it.
Which is why it was so painful to hear that she was going to have to go straight back into another challenge that would probably require yet another break down and building back up. At the ROAD BLOCK: DON’T ROCK THE BOAT, teams must pick up a traditional reed boat, which Phil informs us were the earliest form of surfboards, carry it to the water, paddle out to a buoy to collect their next clue, and paddle back to their partner on the shore. Blair is super excited to try it out because he’s a regular paddle boarder, but he finds out this is, uh, nothing like that. The tightly bundled sticks are less like a surfboard and more like “a wooden burrito that’s constantly rolling.” But after falling off about 100 times, he figures out how to stay seated and paddle. Even though the rafts have what appears to be a place to sit in them, all the Peruvians riding them are sitting on the front, so that’s what Blair and Jelani do too, although Jelani somehow finds it easier to lay almost completely on his back and just barely paddle.
In the end, Laura seems to be best at it, hopping in the little seat part, paddling out there, and paddling right back to Tyler. She had to be the one to complete the Road Block because Tyler had already done five… which is also the case for Rochelle.
And I feel for Rochelle—not that she would have been any more exhausted than Mike, but you can just tell this leg was a tough one for her mentally. But Mike gives her pep talk #100 as if he read my exact thoughts when she told him she really didn’t think she could do it: “You’ve gotten this far! You’ve done stuff you said you can’t do. You can do it… I know you can do it!” And she does, saying that her main motivation for coming on this race at all was to better her son’s life, and she couldn’t let him down at the hands of a stick burrito.
Excuse me, I’m emotional, we need to get to the results:
Such dramatics, Phil! But he’s not the only one; Rochelle is completely overcome by emotion when she hears that they’re still in the race. Phil tells her she has to keep it together though, because the race is still going. The Final Leg has begun and the teams are headed to Dallas, Texas!
What do you think about a Final Four in Season 26? Could the last place team come back around to win the whole thing like the Candy Scientists did last season? Who’s your pick to be the first team eliminated by Phil in the middle of the next leg? And of course—this is your final chance to publicly pick your winner in the comments. Tune into EW early next week to read my interview with Phil, where he shares his own picks for the Season 26 winner and an exclusive clip from next Friday’s finale.