The most compatible team reigns supreme... but let's not forget that they were complete strangers three weeks ago.

Credit: Photo: Michael Prengler/CBS

“That’s the race… expect the unexpected.”

The quote above is from Jelani at the top of the season 26 Amazing Race finale, referring to the semi-unexpected arrival of Mike and Rochelle as the fourth team headed to the Final Leg. But he could be referring to any portion of this race through Dallas. I didn’t expect monster trucks; I didn’t expect Team Truck Stop to start off in the lead; I did expect Hayley to yell at Blair, but I didn’t expect her to yell at him because he wouldn’t direct the English-speaking driver to drive to a place that Hayley alone knew the location of. But TAR Historians, most of all, this is truly one for the record books (which is to say, your trapper keeper decoupaged with pictures of Phil raising his eyebrows, of course) because I’m sure that when this season began, none of us would have expected that the Final 3 would be composed entirely Blind Date couples.

Team Truck Stop kept up the Established Couples banner as long as they could, but in the end there was just something about Team SoCal, the Lawyers, and Team Truck Stop. In a pre-finale interview with host Phil Keoghan, he credited Laura and Tyler’s compatibility, Jenny and Jelani’s perfectionism, and Hayley and Blair’s experience in working under pressure in the medical field as their teams’ greatest strengths. I mostly agree, but the theory falls apart a little bit when you think about Hayley and Blair frantically searching for the red and yellow marker that would take them to the Final Challenge, and the mistake that ultimately cost them the Race.

I’ll be honest, legs that come down to eyesight aren’t my favorite, and while this Final Leg had a lot more going on than just the clue box search from atop the Reunion Tower, that was certainly the deciding factor of who got ahead and who was left behind (unless you were Mike and Rochelle, king and queen of unfortunate taxis). This finale was big and bold as any true Texas time should be, and most of all it seemed fun. And that was fun to watch, but I would have loved to have seen a Final Leg that was a little more physically and mentally demanding.

But I probably only think that because I got some bee in my bonnet that Hayley and Blair were going to somehow win this thing despite the fact that they have a timeshare in a love/hate relationship, and one tenant is pulling overtime in the hate condo. But of course it should be the team that’s been somewhere in the lead for the majority of the legs, has gotten along like gangbusters, never said a harsh word to each other, and had confidence in their ability to win the whole way through. The Team Formerly Known As Attractive (and obviously still actually attractive, if not a little more weathered from their time herding cattle and scaling buildings), Team SoCal may have gotten a touch cocky in the last few weeks, but they proved tonight that it was warranted. Because they did the damn thing!

Flying from Trujillo, Pero to Dallas, Texas, all four teams were on the same flight, giving the three Blind Date couples plenty of time to realize that the last remaining dating couple, Mike and Rochelle, were still… remaining. Even though the EW comment boards were alight with skepticism about the random elimination (seriously, no one is mad that the sweetest team in the game got another chance to race for the million) this leg, the other teams seemed to accept Team Truck Stop showing up as a completely fair possibility, and later, the random elimination (I agree—it’s annoying) was handled with grace by the eliminated team. It was handled with a little bit of pouting by your recapper.

NEXT: Flying and football, cowboys and cattle…

After landing in Dallas, the teams race to the AT&T Stadium for their first clue, and wouldn’t you know it, Mike and Rochelle are the first to arrive for PLAY LIKE A PRO. And that’s a good thing because, as Mike says, he has more of a defensive build than a kicker or a QB, so it takes him a few extra tries to complete all of the football tasks. The men of all the teams take on this challenge, putting on a harness to skyrocket 300-feet in the air to grab a playbook from the top of the AT&T, then they have to successfully catch a touchdown pass in the end zone, as well as complete a field goal. Tyler does them all in one shot because Tyler is a superhuman, cinder-block-carting machine; Blair just needs to lose his shows and take one additional try and he and Hayley are back out to their taxi driver who seems particularly Dallas-savvy. Team SoCal’s driver, on the other hand, has no idea how to find the location of their next clue, P2 Ranch, so they stall to follow Team Medical, which Team Medical totally sees right through, so they stall long enough that the other two teams are emerging, and everyone is just sitting there not racing. There are accusations of being “scheisty.” It’s all very low-key dramatic.

But it works, because Team SoCal somehow becomes convinced that Team Medical doesn’t know where they’re going; they still do though, so Hayley and Blair get to the next task first: COWBOY UP. At P2 Ranch, the teams must corral six longhorns into a pin while riding horses that they seemingly get exactly no instruction on how to ride. And these horses mean business, and so do the four-feet-deep water pits they have to steer their horses through. At one point Jenny’s horse bucked her so hard I thought she wasn’t going to be able to get back off the ground.

But she just hopped right up, kind of scolded the horse, and got back on. That woman is tough and she knows a good metaphor when she’s living it. Everybody gets through this challenge with no real problems except occasionally galloping at full speed without knowing how to stop—“Can we slow her down a little?”—and heads to the Reunion Tower to find their next clue. That is… except for Mike and Rochelle. Their taxi driver told them when he dropped them at the AT&T Stadium that he couldn’t stay and wait for them, and true to his word, they were taxi-less when they emerged. They found a taxi impressively fast for being in Texas, near a huge stadium that wasn’t currently housing a game; but when their driver had to turn around to find a gas station on the way to the Cowboy Up, it was all over.

By the time Team Truck Stop made it to P2 Ranch, Phil was there waiting of them with the mid-leg elimination. They’re both proud of how they’ve treated each other, and they should be—they’re a great match, and Rochelle says Mike will definitely be meeting her son when they get back home: “My son is going to be lucky to know him.” Excuse me, I’ll just need a moment…

NEXT: Hayley blunder is another’s blessing…

Okay, I’m back and ready to scale the Reunion Tower in the ROAD BLOCK: KEEP A SHARP EYE OUT. One member of each team must rappel down the Tower in order to spot the location of the next clue, only knowing that it’s near the train tracks. Hayley is the first to go and she spots some sort of red and yellow box… or poles? I was never really sure what she saw, but it wasn’t the clue. And after taking their taxi to the parking garage while screaming at Blair to direct the driver to the parking garage that he hasn’t seen, Hayley discovers she was not tracking the correct TAR clue; then she screams at Blair a little more when he won’t solely decide whether they should go back to do the Road Block again or travel up and down the train tracks. They go back, she spots the yellow and red flags she was supposed to spot originally, and pretty earnestly apologizes for likely losing them a million dollars.

Because she did, uh, kind of lose them a millionaire dollars. Jenny and Laura headed to the top of the tower right around the time Hayley and Blair were leaving, but because they spotted the right clue on their first try—after almost being tricked by the same glimpse of yellow that distracted Hayley—they pull way out into the leading heading into the FINAL CHALLENGE: GIANT SELFIE MEMORY TEST.

The Final Challenge isn’t given that name with an official title card or anything, but that’s what Phil calls it, and any challenge involving arranging selfies in chronological order deserves to sound that silly. After the teams drive a huge monster truck across a big ol’ bog, they have to unlock a shed full of the selfies by matching four locations they’ve visited with the legs they were completing while visiting those places to create a four-digit code; then they have to arrange the plethora of selfies in chronological order from left to right along a big map that traces the path they’ve traveled in the race. Team SoCal takes ages to figure out the code because they can’t remember the legs for two of the locations and then zoom through the selfies with their signature teamwork; and the Lawyers figure out the code on their first try, then arrange the selfies in about the most complicated way possible, I assume, because of the perfectionism Phil cited.

They finish fairly close to each other, but the editors hardly try to fool us with who might make it to the Finish Line at Continental Avenue Bridge first:

First Place: TEAM SOCAL FOR THE MILLION!!! After five continents, eight countries, 12 legs, and more than 35,000 miles, the closest thing we had to frontrunners for the entire season officially cemented their status by becoming the official winners of season 26 of The Amazing Race. Phil tries one last time to make them admit they’re in love with each other, but Tyler and Laura counter that they found “the love of the world… and a lasting friendship.” Awwwww.

Second Place: THE LAWYERS get a million less dollars, but lavish just as much praise on each other, saying they couldn’t have asked for more effort from a teammate.

Third Place: TEAM MEDICAL… oh, Team Medical. Blair carried Hayley in on his back and says that you can’t have any regrets, probably referring to their detrimental mistake at the Reunion Tower—but who knows, because he doesn’t have any regrets! Hayley says it will probably haunt her the rest of her life. Never change, you two.

This season has been a weird one, but it’s certainly been interesting. I haven’t quite decided what it means that the Final 3 teams were all Blind Date couples, but I know that I wouldn’t be opposed to a season that brought strangers together again—maybe they could use a different premise next time though so Phil wouldn’t keep having to ask everybody is they were secretly making out, he could just be like, “Hey, you two both have A-B positive blood types?”

But Phil, the romantic, would probably still be rooting for l-u-v, anyway. If you haven’t read my interview with the TAR host-master yet, you can read about how he’s still shipping Laura and Tyler here. And stay tuned to EW at the end of the Finale’s West Coast air time for an interview with Laura and Tyler who have enough passion for this race, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that they’re account for a few of the comments here every week. As always, thank you for watching along with me—it’s been a joy and a pleasure! Sound off with all of your Texas-sized opinions in the comments section…

Episode Recaps


The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.

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  • CBS
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