BUT DID ANY OF THEM FIND LOVE?!?!?! (Oh wait, no one cares.)
11. Jeff & Lyda (Dating For 4 Years, 11th place)
I wish I could rank Jeff & Lyda higher, I really do, partly because it’s so unimaginative to have the first boot team in the lowest position on the countdown, and partly because they genuinely seemed like they had potential to be a fun, likeable team. Blame the editors, I suppose, because that first episode was incredibly crowded, or blame whoever decided to make this an effing blind date season so that so much of that introduction time was spent focusing on the people who’d never met before they turned up on the race meaning that there was even less time to go around for everyone else. The main things we learned about Jeff & Lyda in their short and not terribly memorable stint on the show was that they were flight crew, that they were one of only *counts on fingers* four teams competing on this season that would have qualified to be on the show under the old rules, and that they had a dogged tenacity at tasks even when they were shit at them, like that Japanese boyband dance challenge that saw them eliminated.
10. Laura & Tyler (Blind Dating, winners)
CBS didn’t do a brilliant job of editing its reality shows to conceal the winners’ identities this year – not only was it obvious from about halfway through Survivor: Worlds Apart that Mike was going to be $1m richer in time for summer (minus taxes, THANKS OBAMA), it was very clear from about the fourth leg onwards that Laura & Tyler were our winners. Partly because they were the most generic team this year by far (or at least the closest thing we had to the obligatory team of LA-based mactors), and partly because we started to get treated to wacky “Laura & Tyler goof off momentarily to enjoy whatever country they’re in right now because goshdarnit they embody the spirit of this race” segments that nobody else was getting. Also, there has never been a contestant named Tyler on this show who didn’t end up winning, weirdly enough. The one interesting thing about them was that the longer the season went on, the more unpleasant they seemed to get, transitioning from basic-level vanity and self-interest to a genuine belief that they were a cut above everyone else. They’re not the worst winners ever – Freddy & Kendra, BJ & Tyler and Dave & Connor all say hi – but they were just so smug and unpleasant that I found myself actively rooting against them, to the point where I went into the final backing Team Anyone But Laura & Tyler. As you can see, that worked out brilliantly for me.
9. Libby & CJ (Dating For 10 Years, 10th place)
One of the early signs that this season was going to be…not great, beyond the blind date gimmick and the insistence on giving each team their own hashtag, was the part where each team was also given their own digital camera and instructed to take as many selfies as possible. This turned out to be important(ish) in the final leg, but for the first few episodes it just seemed like a desperate, pathetic attempt to make the show relevant to younger viewers – never more so than when poor Libby & CJ, who were already blighted by a complete inability to read maps or follow directions at any time, stopped to take a selfie in Japan and their train left without them. #victims #sosad #pray4libbyandcj
8. Aly & Steve (Dating For 7 Months, 6th place)
Sometimes on The Amazing Race the true value of a team takes a little time to become apparent, and Aly & Steve spent an alarming number of legs playing the kind of blandly competent, all-American couple role that put them in direct competition for airtime with Laura & Tyler. Something had to give, and it turned out that something was Aly – in the last quarter of their run on the race, something inside her apparently just snapped and she seemed to be possessed by the same demon that had been occupying Hayley for most of the race (and before you dismiss this as mere superstition, this more or less coincided with Hayley becoming comparatively calm and co-operative for a couple of legs) causing her to find fault with absolutely everything that Steve did (sometimes justly, other times not so much) and operate continuously on a level of nervous exhaustion where she seemed on the verge of a tearful ragequit at any moment. This proved to be the making of Steve as well, as his total inability to understand or deal with Aly’s complete personality transplant was sort of endearing – I’m sure most of America (or at least the fraction of America that’s still watching since this show got moved to the Friday Night Death Slot) was moved by this man-mountain staring helplessly at his girlfriend, entirely unsure what he could possibly say that would lead to his desired outcome of not getting yelled at again but suspecting – probably correctly – that the answer was “nothing”. Speaking of man-mountains: it also became clear when he spent the last couple of legs in tight trousers that Steve had one heck of a badonkadonk, which also did a lot for his appeal.
7. Bergen & Kurt (Blind Dating, 8th place)
As the only gay couple set up on a blind date, poor Bert and Kurgen had to bear the weight of countless gays huffing at the screen “oh, just because they’re both gay, they’re automatically going to fancy each other, ARE THEY?!” Unfortunately for CBS, this was kind of a no-win situation, as this ended up being probably the most disastrous match-up because it was clear from the off that Bergen & Kurt weren’t remotely attracted to each other at all. I think they were both hoping for someone a bit more “masc” because their obvious disappointment with each other’s…airiness was tangible. Still, they resolved to at least run the race as friends…which lasted for a couple of legs at best before they had a meltdown over that age-old Race problem of not having learned to drive stick (as a British person where learning to drive stick is a thing you do as default, this is eternally incomprehensible to me), abandoned their Product Placement Ford only to realise that it was an entire Product Placement Leg that they would need their Product Placement Ford to complete properly, but by the point that Phil came out to eliminate them in the field I think they were both kind of over the whole thing and itching to get on Grindr and find themselves each a nice horny German top no fats no femmes sorrynotsorry.
6. Harley & Jonathan (Dating For 7 Years, 9th place)
That would be yer actual Jon Knight from New Kids On The Block, then. I may have had an unhealthy level of investment in this particular team, because Jon Knight is the first celebrity I can ever remember having a crush on, waaaaaayyyy back before I knew that he was gay, or indeed that I was gay, so I really wanted them to do well. I’d heard from a friend who’s a big NKOTB fan that Jon has a kind of nervous temperament and isn’t particularly comfortable in the spotlight, which made me wonder what he was even doing on this show in the first place, but while Jon did have a lot of moments where he looked like he was on the verge of a panic attack, there was something heartwarming about seeing him overcoming all of the things that terrified him, one by one, including actually talking into a camera without breaking into a cold sweat. On top of that, their relationship felt genuinely relaxed and natural, and while I was sad to see them go out so early, I was also kind of relieved that they went before the pressures of the competition could start to have any sort of negative impact on their relationship. Some things are too precious to sacrifice to reality TV, and the happiness of my first crush is definitely one of those.
5. Jelani & Jenny (Blind Dating, runners-up)
Like Aly & Steve, Jelani & Jenny took a little while to develop any sort of distinct on-screen personality other than both being lawyers (although there was a moment early on where they both realised that they were completely overthinking a clue because they were being all lawyer-y about it and cracked up simultaneously, which was super-cute), but their value only became apparent once the U-Turns started appearing and it became very clear that just about every other team still standing hated and feared Jenny. I don’t specifically know what she did to ostracise everyone else so much, but it must have been SERIOUS. That said, it was huge fun to watch how competitive Jenny got as they got closer to the end, to the point where it seemed genuinely possible that she would knock Jelani out and carry him on her back if she thought that would make the team as a whole move faster. You just know that in 10 years’ time she’s going to be the soccer mom that all the other soccer moms are absolutely terrified of, and I kind of want her to come back and run the race again with her actual husband when she reaches that stage.
4. Jeff & Jackie (Blind Dating, 7th place)
The most (/only) successful producer-mandated match-up of the entire season, it was clearly lust at first sight for Jeff & Jackie. Frankly, it was a miracle they actually got any tasks completed because it seemed like they just wanted to abandon the round-the-world trip and lock themselves up in their sequestering hotel room for the weekend and get a few…things out of their systems. Jeff & Jackie brought the exact energy that this stupid gimmick season needed and deserved, so they deserve a spot in the top four for that alone. Also, they had hands-down the most hilarious intro shot in the title sequence where Jackie hurled herself at Jeff so forcefully, hungrily even, that she almost bodily knocked him right through the screen. If you’d told me she devoured his carcass after coitus, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.
3. Mike & Rochelle (Dating For 8 Months, 4th place)
Dignity was just outside of Mike & Rochelle’s grasp for most of the race, from their designated hashtag (#truckstoplove, seriously?) to their perpetual appearance in the bottom half of the table to Mike’s unfortunate perspiration problem, they were the underdogs at every turn. Of course, in true reality TV style, this made them so much more appealing as they battled the odds and made it all the way to the final, only to end up getting the race’s ultimate indignity – the elimination that falls halfway through the last leg. (Seriously, can we stop that? It just makes the final leg too crowded, and it feels too arbitary.) In the midst of all of this, they felt like the most relatable team on the race – they weren’t particularly worldly or particularly fit, but they gave everything a good go and they clung on far longer than any of us thought they could. Theirs probably would have been the ultimate feelgood victory, and perhaps the Beekmans and Sweet Scientists of yesteryear gave me unrealistic expectations that it could happen, but sadly it was not to be.
2. Matt & Ashley (Dating For 3 Years/Engaged, 5th place)
More often than not, the dynamic for male/female couple teams on the Race tends to paint the man as calm and stoic and the woman as feverish and hysterical, so it was hugely refreshing to see a total reversal of that with Matt & Ashley – he had a terrible tendency to get flustered whenever they struggled with a task (particularly when it was a roadblock that was his sole responsibility), whereas Ashley was just kind of super-chill about absolutely everything. I really enjoyed watching Matt flap his way around the later legs while Ashley repeatedly talked him down from a ledge and took care of business by being a quiet badass. If Survivor is looking to crib from the casting lists of this show again after Natalie running San Juan Del Sur like a boss (and they’re probably not, considering how poorly that season was received, but humour me here), they should definitely consider Ashley in the future.
1. Hayley & Blair (Blind Dating, 3rd place)
They gave Bergen & Kurt a run for their money as the most ill-suited match-up of the race, considering that before they’d even made it to the airport she’d already insulted him by estimating his age incorrectly (note to all people on blind dates ever: “guess” is never the correct response to “how old are you?” because neither of you will be happy with how the rest of the conversation goes). Again, it was clear early on that this was not a love match (Hayley seemed far more interested in the handsome pilot in South Africa, and perhaps Blair was as well), but they managed to quite impressively mimic the on-race behaviour of a long-term dating couple without actually being one. The pattern was always thus: Hayley would make a suggestion, Blair would ignore her, Hayley would turn out to be correct and Blair would not hear the end of it for the next three legs. It was a self-sustaining problem, because the angrier Hayley got about not being listened to, the more constantly she just prattled away right in Blair’s ear, and the more he tuned her out. I’m not saying it was the right thing to do, but it was certainly understandable – Hayley was bound to be right sometimes purely by virtue of talking so much, in a ‘even a stopped clock is right twice a day’ kind of way, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be the one trying to filter out the useful information from the white noise. Then it ended as it inevitably must: in the final leg, Blair finally trusted her when she told him where to go next, she was completely wrong, he didn’t like to correct her based on previous experience, they bled a lot of time and turned a first place position into a distant third and basically lost themselves $1m. (At which point Hayley suddenly started protesting that Blair wasn’t “helping [her] make decisions”, ie telling her what to do because suddenly when she was in the wrong she no longer wanted all the credit.) It’s a shame that it had to happen – especially since it allowed Laura & Tyler to win – but I think was necessary for the long-term health of both of their egos. And if you’re wondering if I keep giving Blair the benefit of the doubt because he’s hot, and a doctor, and the sort of hot doctor you could take home to meet your mother and he would remember to say please and thank you? I plead the Fifth.