What an odd season this is. I’ve really enjoyed the social complexities of half of season 26’s teams starting off as strangers, but there’s just no way to get a handle on who to root for. The team you think is a frontrunner one week, is getting eliminated the next; the team you think could possibly result in TAR’s first homicide—or at least light poisoning scandal—can turn it around and take the lead; and somehow almost every team seems like an underdog… even the ones with Olympic medals.
Incorporating “blind date” couples into the 26th season of TAR has had its fair share of growing pains; I am, of course, referencing poor Daddy Phil having to cosplay as Chris Harrison and ask everyone if they’re falling in love all the time when they’ve known each other for 10 days, and perspired their body weight in sweat during every single one of them. But the thing I most appreciate about this season is how it’s subverted so many of the common TAR team tropes. The closest we’ve had to a dominant team to root for has probably been Team SoCal, formerly known as Team Attractive, and I’m glad I made moniker adjustment last week, because their laid-back confidence shifted slightly more toward the realm of cockiness tonight. They can probably get past that but they’re also not the ringers they could have seemed, considering their final placement tonight.
And then, of course, there’s the lack of a team to actively root against as villains this season—rather, there’s simply a singular villain who’s arisen over the last few episodes in the form of Hayley; and that somehow makes her partner Blair seem all the more heroic, kind of turning them into the team I most actively root for sticking around, whether it’s to watch them win or just to continue to marvel at the editor’s love of flashing back to her berating him in hazy “previously on The Amazing Race” filters. Physically though, Team Medical are a classically strong team. The closest we have to typical TAR underdogs are the slightly bumbling Team Truck Stop; but putting them ahead of some of the physically stronger teams is their ability to work together. The blind date teams started out dominating these legs, but now they’re starting to drop like flies (flies that were strangers a few weeks ago, to be fair).
This rrrace around the world is evening up in a very interesting way. The best part about tonight was that, at some point, pretty much every team was in last. The teams traveled from Munich to Monaco, the second smallest country in the world at just 1.4 square miles. And every single square of it is confusing as hell, it seems. The Olympians get the last spot on the first flight out to Nice, and pretty much every other team gets booked on the following flight… except Team Truck Stop, who are last out of the gate due to their almost-eliminated finish last week. They’re booked on a much later flight, but happen to spot the Olympians getting on their flight, go ask to be put on standby, and before they we know what’s happening, they’re heading to Nice tied for first place. Tyler might think the Truck Stop-ers are a “weak” team, but they’re open-mindedness is what’s kept them alive in this race.
Once in Nice, the teams are fitted for formal eveningwear that they’ll wear throughout the leg. This is the second leg in a row where the contestants have had to race in costume, but I’d venture to guess the ladies found their Oktoberfest dresses a little easier to run in than strapless evening gowns. I did envy them while they were flying from Nice to Monaco in helicopters the next morning, but I did not envy all the black-tie-not-optional running that came next. Once in Monaco, one member from each team sets out on the ROAD BLOCK: ROSES AND CHOCOLATES. They must run all over the place collecting two of Grace Kelly’s favorite luxury items, roses and chocolates, and bring them back as a treat to their partner waiting on a luxury yacht. Steve and Mike are the first out of the gate, and though Mike gets much sweatier and more lost than Steve, he holds down their second place position.
NEXT: It’s a (Ford) Fiesta of odds in Monaco…[pagebreak]
It’s a good thing too because the DETOUR is a real toss-up… literally. After delivering their Road Black goods, the teams head to the famous Casino de Monte-Carlo where they spin a roulette wheel to decide their fate between DON’T SLACK OFF or WIN BY A NOSE. Once handed their Detour clue, each team picks up a Ford Fiesta to drive themselves through the rest of the leg, and these Fords are not quite as GPS-equipped as the Focuses of the last leg. Team Truck Stop ask for directions before they head out and are the first to arrive at Win by a Nose, but the Lawyers quickly get in a fight when Jenny accuses Jelani of losing their map when, in fact, she left it with Laura while they were completing the Road Block together. (It is not a great look for Jenny, especially with Hailey acting so sweetly by comparison this episode.) Laura and Tyler are extra sneaky about keeping the map for themselves; Tyler is also apparently extra sensitive to light because he keeps his “bougie” sunglasses on for most of the leg.
In Win by a Nose, the teams must are given a perfume and cologne each composed of 12 scents and must reconstruct them from provided formulas. There are far more than the necessary scents at their stations, but there are also 12 mystery scents that contain four of the necessary components for the recipes that the teams have to sniff out. This presents a big problem, and it’s very entertaining to hear the perfumer-sniffing teams talk about how difficult the task is while wafting tiny bottle under their noses when the editors keep interspersing that with the other Detour task which happens to have the other teams dangling 2,000 feet over Monaco.
In Don’t Slack Off, the teams zipline from one mountain peak to another, and once to the other side, must slackline back to the other side. Jenny and Jackie could not be more thrilled to do this, with Jackie sprinting across the wire like a drunk toddler with no fear instincts because they’re battling to stay out of last place. Jeff, Jelani, and Matt all seem equally terrified/thrilled, but I’m legitimately scared for Ashley, who barely seems tall enough to reach the guiding wire with her hands. But she makes it easily, and overall, the slackline task seems to go much faster than the perfume making, but once the teams are back in their cars trying to make their way to the Pit Stop, it’s pretty much anyone’s game on the tricky roads of Monaco/ Èze/Nice.
Though they were the first to arrive to Win by a Nose, Team Truck Stop is the last to leave for the PIT STOP at Plage de Passable, just after Team Medical, but it all comes down to staying calm and navigating the details in this luxury leg of the rrrrrace around the world:
1: Team Medical—they were so happy! Blair and Hayley said they knew if they were able to get through a leg of the race without arguing that they would come in first, and their peaceful premonitions proved to be true, resulting in many a cleansing hug between the two. I still hope they don’t have to go on that trip for two to South Africa together though…
2: Olympians—they seemed destined to lose to being lost at a few points, but ended up in second place (I think) because of their shrewd noses.
3: Team Truck Stop got close to arguing this leg of the race, but as it turns out, at his most negative state, Mike just gets overly encouraging. Another team that seemed destined to finish last after the Detour, but finished in the top half.
4: Hairdressers, who offer up that they’re in love and “kissing and telling” when Phil starts pestering the blind date couples to D.T.R.
5: Lawyers: “There’s no kissing and no telling.” But there is a lot of bickering!
6: Team SoCal seemed to really enjoy themselves this leg, but that didn’t do them any favors getting to the Pit Stop mat…
ELIMINATED: J&J Jeff and Jackie were the most vocal about not knowing where any of the other teams were as they all made their way to the Pit Stop, but it turns out that was because they were at the back of the pack.
I thought these two were a strong team but it was just the luck of the draw in Monaco. I wish we’d gotten more quotes like, “They’re nippin’ at our buds!” out of Jeff, but at least he’s leaving with Jackie’s number and a lifelong connection. Prepare for an extra sad Phil next week as his last chance at blind date l-u-v just exited the building.
What do you think of the six teams that remain as we head into the halfway point, a two hour episode, and Africa next week? More importantly, whose formalwear did you like the best and did you get as much of a thrill out of Phil in a tuxedo as I did?