Team SoCal talks their lack of romance, their influx of respect for one another, and what it's like to dive into a mud pit with a stranger.

By Jodi Walker
Updated May 15, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT
Monty Brinton/CBS

The Amazing Race

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When EW caught up with the newly crowned winners of Season 26 of The Amazing Race, Tyler and Laura—otherwise known as Team SoCal, their geographical origins being the only thing that connected the two stranger three weeks before they became the first ever Blind Date couple to cross the TAR Finish Line—hadn’t even gone public with the news of their win yet. Only their families knew that they were the ones to take home the top prize, beating out other Top 3 teams Jenny and Jelani and Hayley and Blair to take the million dollar prize back to Southern California.

And the teams didn’t get much more compatible than Laura and Blair. In fact, they’re kind of the same person: laid back, competitive, and respectful of each other and the, uh, amazing experience that is The Amazing Race. When asked what individual strengths they were each bringing to Team SoCal that the other didn’t have, Tyler cited Laura’s superhuman eyesight, and Laura called Tyler’s physical strength simply Herculean. But other than varying degrees of freakish strength and eyesight, they’re each pretty much the whole TAR package. (In fact, they were once known in EW’s Amazing Race recaps as Team Attractive, but that felt a little shallow once we learned that they were also Team Hardworking, Team Positive, Team Confidence, etc.)

After talking with the million dollar winners from SoCal, I’m convinced that few have ever had as much fun or been more grateful for their TAR experience, lost passports and all. And these two were mere strangers before Phil forced them to do a mud run together! Now they’ve got a million bucks, a text war about who’s the funniest, and a bond to last a lifetime. EW caught up with Team SoCal to discuss why they’re grateful for their mistakes, how their perceptions of other teams have changed since watching the show, and their similarly odd tracks to finding each other on The Amazing Race:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Most people who get on The Amazing Race are super fans who have been watching for years. Was that the case for you two?

Tyler: Yeah, Laura and I were both really big fans of the race and that was probably the biggest thing that we were able to bond over in the very beginning. We always pressured ourselves to pick the right challenges and make the right choices because we felt like we had done our homework and knew which ones would be more difficult that the others.

How did you find yourself matched up with a stranger on The Amazing Race?

Laura: I tried out four years ago with one of my best friends and we made it really far into casting, but it didn’t work out. And then, I was out at a bar in Santa Monica and Lynne Stillman, the lead casting director, asked me if I would be on The Amazing Race and if I was single. And I said yes…

Tyler: My experience was pretty similar: I had just moved to California, and within the first week of being there, I was out at The Bungalow in Santa Monica and bumped into Lynne Stillman as well. She said, “Hey, do you want to be on Survivor? And I said, “Uh, is this how Hollywood works?” I told her no on Survivor, but that I had applied for The Amazing Race and never heard back. She said, “If you’re wiling to lose your partner, we could potentially work on it,” and the rest is history.

What was your first reaction to not only being paired with a stranger, but that it was under a romantic premise? And how did that reaction hold up once you were on the show?

Laura: I was excited, but still, to think about doing something like this with a complete stranger scared me because the thing that I love about the show is the relationships. And that’s why I’m so lucky, because some people absolutely did not like each other and they didn’t have the experience that we had. We became very good friends and it was fun for us.

Tyler: I was definitely open-minded and willing to see how it worked, but I think immediately, you realize, this is just impossible. This is a serious race. We introduced ourselves and then 30 seconds later, we were crawling through the mud, clawing our way across this obstacle course. Then they ask you questions about how your first date is going!

Laura: It’s like you can only do one or the other. That’s why there’s The Bachelor and that’s why there’s The Amazing Race.

Despite the romantic failure, I think fans were surprised by how well the stranger premise worked and shocked that there were three Blind Date couples in the Finals. Was there a moment in the race where you felt like you were really clicking as a team?

Tyler: I feel like one of the most pivotal points for us was in Germany when we lost our passports. Like, if we’re both able to sit down and keep our cool and recognize that there wasn’t a lot that we could do about it. That could have been the point when we went after each other, but we chose to stay positive and keep going.

Laura: What happened, which is so weird, is that we just knew everything was going to be okay. If I yelled at him, what was that going to accomplish? It would make our team crumble, it would make us lose all respect for each other. I was like, we are not going home—we are going to find these freaking fanny packs and we are going to keep racing. We were on The Amazing Race! Every day was our birthday!

Well, you definitely seemed very confident the whole time, like you knew you were going to be at the end because you were going to work hard enough to get there. What do you think gave you a leg up on the competition?

Tyler: I think in tough scenarios, we made smart decisions. Whether it was what cab driver you pick or staying up on the computer for hours in the airport. Before Germany, Laura and I got on Google and did the street view search. We were literally walking the streets of Germany so we would know exactly where to go when we got off the plane. We felt really comfortable about our strategy all throughout the race. And then just happened to make a little mistake here or there.

Laura: But see, I wouldn’t trade those mistakes. I love those mistakes because I think it shows that, yeah, we screwed up numerous times, but we stayed positive. It was knowing that we were a strong team and were going to stay in this, and also, having so much fun throughout the process.

Who did you feel like was your biggest competition throughout the race?

Tyler: It’s such a funny question because if you asked before we watched it, I would have said Jelani and Jenny. We don’t necessarily get to see them do a challenge, we just see that they’re coming in second all the time or they’re finishing high up in the pack in the first few legs. Then you watch and I can’t get over some of the decisions that they made.

Speaking of seeing different sides of people, you two were pretty outspoken about not wanting Hayley and Blair to win. Tell me everything…

Tyler: You know, you hang out at the airport occasionally, but you don’t really see the other teams that much. And consistently, any time that we did see them, they were arguing. We definitely just felt like that attitude that we brought into the race, like, “Hey, let’s appreciate every moment and be grateful for what we have” wasn’t something they had also considered. And I just really didn’t want someone with that attitude to go on in the race.

Laura: After the race we’ve all gotten to know each other, so I personally feel bad for some of the things that Tyler and I said. However, we were speaking on the way that we perceived the situation. People assume that Laura and Tyler are mean for saying these things, but that’s what we saw: Hayley yelling at Blair and Blair being a nice guy.

Blair and Hayley obviously had very different styles of working together, whereas you two seemed like the same person. What were each of you bringing to the team dynamic?

Tyler: So… I’m really funny, so that helped a lot.

Laura: Tyler will text me and be like, “I’m the funny one here,” and I’m like, “People were just laughing at a joke that I said, I’m the funny one!”

I have to ask before you go… I interviewed Phil the other day and he very much disagrees with you that it’s impossible to find a romantic match on the race. In fact, he’s still shipping you two pretty hard and thinks that secretly maybe this whole “mutual respect” business is a cover-up. So just double checking—is there anything that you want to divulge about your post-race relationship?

[palpable silence]

Tyler: [laughs] No, Laura and I have stayed in touch and we’ve had viewing parties together, but there hasn’t been any romantic relationship.

Just competing for who’s funniest via text?

Laura: Well we already know… I’m the funniest.

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The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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