The blind date pairs continue to perform well together while the existing couples skate on thin ice in Nagano, Japan

By Jodi Walker
February 28, 2015 at 02:00 AM EST
Monty Brinton/CBS

The Amazing Race

S26 E2
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Two Amazing Races in one week? It’s CBS miracle! And it means that the 10 teams remaining—half dating couples, half attractive strangers—are sticking around Japan for another leg. I feel like in this season, more than most in recent history, each team has stood out in unique enough ways that I’ve already become kind of attached to all of them. Since half of the teams are having to get to know each other on the spot, we’re getting to know them too. And as the other half consist of two Olympians, a New Kid On The Block, two tatted up folks who met at a truck stop, a couple of strong New York personalities, and two people who spend most of their time being lost, the dating couples are standing out pretty well too.

I know many were skeptical about the blind date concept but Season 26 has somehow managed to create higher than average TAR stakes: From here on out, each elimination will really feel like a loss. And they’re not messing around with the Road Blocks and Detours, either. As a few noted in the comments, Wednesday’s premiere was particularly tough for a first leg, and for the second week in a row, the challenges combined have managed to cover the physical, the mental, and the gross-out: the TAR trifecta.

Also noted in the comments was the addition of each team being armed with a “selfie” camera, and let me assure you, we’re on the same page on that one. I’m really not going to be able to tolerate many more utterances of, “Maybe it’ll help if we take a selfie.” Because you know what? Team Tuskegee basically got eliminated tonight because their selfie focus outweighed their bullet train focus. Now, I don’t think that would have happened to anyone except Team Tuskegee, and if it hadn’t been a selfie, it probably would have been something else distracting them, but still…it was a million dollar selfie. Was it worth it, Amazing Race? Was it worth it???

In this leg of the race, the teams travel from Tokyo to Nagano, Japan. It’s a special city to the Olympians—the one team we didn’t get to see as much of in the premiere—because it was home to the 1998 Winter Olympics, and is the place where Aly first realized she wanted to be a speed skater. I’ll admit my throat got a little tight at seeing how much Nagano meant to them. But we’re not there yet. First, the teams have to take the bullet train from Tokyo to Nagano, and their departure times were more spread out than usual, with the first three teams all able to catch a 6:30 train and the last team, Team Tuskegee, making it in time to catch the 9:04 train nearly three hours later. Well, they would have taken the 9:04 train if they hadn’t been standing in front of it taking a selfie when they realized it was leaving. Those two are kind of a mess. The next train left at 9:20, so the time difference wasn’t huge…except that the first three teams had probably already been in Nagano for two hours by that point!

In Nagano, the first teams are sent to Matsumoto Castle where they find the Road Block: THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. One member of each team must solve a traditional Japanese puzzle box, revealing a password inside that they have to recite to the castle guards to get their next clue. The Lawyers, Jeff and Jackie, and Team Attractive all arrive at about the same time and Tyler proves that he is, in fact, “the smartest dude,” solving the puzzle first, followed by Jelani. Jeff has a tougher time and is still there when the Olympians arrive from the second train. It’s fun to watch the blind date couples watch each other in Road Blocks, because they really have no idea what their partner is capable of. That’s a lot of trust that can end in furthering their relationship or building a wall between them.

The first teams head to Nishi-Guchi Zenko-Ji to retrieve their clue to the Detour: SHARE vs. CHAIR. A physical challenge or an eating challenge…the classic dilemma. In Share, the teams must use only the chopsticks provided to feed each other “the most awkward date food ever, noodles,” while a fan blows on them to cool the noodles (and also get soup in their hair). In Chair, the teams have to push one another around an Olympic speed skating track, and then switch places, completing the two laps in 3:55 or less.

NEXT: There’s love in the air…oh, no, that’s just noodle juice.

As a horrific ice skater myself, I can’t imagine why anyone would go skate-race over noodles, except the Olympians, of course, who choose Chair and nail it on their very first try, keeping them on pace with the first teams that chose Share. I loved seeing the way each team tackled eating bulk noodles in heavy wind flow: Jenny the lawyer, I swear somehow managed to eat them factually; Team Attractive ate them as unattractively as possible; and the New Kids got their whole bodies involved, ducking under the chopsticks for drop-off. The Blonde Boys, who seem to be most open about the growing pains of being strangers competing together, had a little more trouble because Kurt couldn’t stomach the taste; but they seem to already be OK with getting a little tense with each other and—I think—have pretty much tossed the idea of any romantic interest out the window. And I really enjoyed how they both seem to be genuinely weirded out by how much they look alike.

About the time the straggler teams—the Hairdressers, Team Truckstop, and Team Medical—are heading to the Detour, Team Tuskegee is getting off their train, and all non-Olympian teams are falling all over themselves trying to push a chair on hockey skates. It takes Jeff and Jackie four tries, but they eventually get it in 3:54. The key seems to be to have the lighter teammate push the heavier teammate first, so that the heavier teammate can make up time when they really have to push it at the end. Nothing helps Team Truckstop though, who keep crashing at the last minute. Rochelle doesn’t want to switch tasks, but Mike convinces her with a, “It’s not you, it’s me,” and probably saves them from last place.

Especially because Tuskegee really gains some speed in the last part of the leg, which is to say, the part of the leg after they finally got off that train. Libby cruised through the Road Block puzzle and they wisely chose to go with Share since they were feeling pretty hungry anyway. I don’t know if it was just that they were so confident that they were firmly in last place, but Libby and CJ were pretty chill throughout everything. Team Medical, on the other hand, were extremely stressed knowing that they were, at best, in second to last place. It takes them a few tries at Chair before they figure out that Hayley should probably push first and finally make it over the finish line right at 3:55. Then it’s just a taxi race to Phil waiting at the Pit Stop at PATIO DAIMON

1: The Lawyers, taking first place again, and winning a Fit Bit package (and a few awkward dating questions from Phil—they appease him with “building a great friendship”).

2: Team Attractive—Phil asks if they’re seeing anything special when they look into each other’s eyes and Tyler says, “dollar signs.” I think I love Tyler.

3: The Olympians, who gush about how much they love the city of Nagano, which was just plain sweet.

4: The New Kids got the special clue with a ticket to Date Night at the Road Block, and they’re happy to kick back at a Japanese hot spring: “I mean, we’re in our 40s.” I hadn’t even considered that they were a decade or two older than the rest of the teams—they look great!

5: The Blonde Boys, still looking a little skittish around each other, but also still very cute and very blonde.

6: Jeff and Jackie, who are certainly the blind date team that’s vibing the most…Jackie on Jeff: “He’s perfect.”

7: The Hairdressers—I’m expecting more out of these two in the future.

8: Team Truckstop—Phil: “You are team number 8 and your beard is thriving!” (Phil waits patiently for someone to say the same about his brows.)

9: Team Medical: I cannot get a read on Blair. He was incredibly nervous that they were going to be eliminated the whole way to the Pit Stop; then he gets there, does about 30 seconds of break dancing, and when Phil announces that they are, in fact, still in the race, he says, “Okay.” I would like to know what algorithms TAR used to match this man to Hayley.

ELIMINATED: Team Tuskegee, who are all smiles, as though they came on this show with the knowledge that they would be the second team eliminated all around. But they seem like they had a great time and are happy to be in love with each other. I’m sure they’ll be glad to return to Tuskegee where there are no bullet trains, but plenty of selfies. Selfies are universal.

What did you think of the second episode of TAR in a week’s time? Any early picks to take it all? Is this blind date business about to blow up in Team Medical’s face next week? And what’s the over/under on a full blind date sweep of the Top 3?

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The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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