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S26 E6
April 11, 2015 at 11:09 PM EDT

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…

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Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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