The Amazing Race is back for season 26, and the race has some shocking changes in store for this season’s competitors. On this trip around the globe, six happy couples will compete against five couples that have never met before. Now that could be downright awkward! The racers will visit eight countries during the course of the race.

This go around, teams will also have the chance to get a clue with a Date Night ticket, which will entitle the couple to a romantic activity as a prize. It seems like The Amazing Race is merging with The Bachelor. It sounds interesting, as we wait to see whose relationship will implode first.

[Video] The Amazing Race Preview: Muddy Obstacle Course, Sake Training and the Blind Date Twist>>>

These 11 teams meet host Phil Keoghan at the starting line at California’s Castaic Lake. Let’s get ready to meet the hopefuls who will be competing for the one million dollar grand prize.

The Dating Couples

Aly Dudek and Steve Langton

These Olympic athletes have been dating for seven months. Aly is from Milwaukee, WI and Steve is from Boston, MA.

Harley Rodriguez and Jonathan Knight

Harley is a fitness trainer and Jonathan is an entertainer and member of “New Kids on the Block.”

Jeff Magee and Lyda Grawn

This couple has known each other for 20 years, but have been dating for four years. Jeff is an airline pilot and Lyda is a flight attendant.

Lebya Simpson and C.J. Harris

This couple has been dating for 10 years. C.J. is an IT technician, and Lebya is a medical support assistant. They live in Tuskegee, AL.

Matt Cucolo and Ashley Gordon

This dating duo are both hairstylists and hale from Scarsdale, New York.

Mike Dombrowski and Rochelle Nevedal

Mike is a pro wrestling promoter and truck stop manager and Rochelle is a contract engineer. They have been dating for two years.

The Blind Date Teams

Blair Townsend and Hayley Keel

Blair is a Navy physician from Jacksonville, Florida. Hayley is a registered nurse from St. Petersburg, Florida.

Jeffrey Weldon and Jackie Ibarra

Jeffrey is a sales executive from Tampa, Florida. Jackie is a professional dancer who lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Tyler Adams and Laura Pierson

Tyler develops mobile applications, and lives in Santa Monica, California. Laura, who is a talent booker, lives in Los Angeles, California.

Jelani Roy and Jenny Wu

Jelani is a lawyer from New York, NY. Jenny is a lawyer and blogger who calls Los Angeles home.

Bergen Olsen and Kurt Jordan Belcher

Bergen is a Human Resources Project Manager from Sunnyvale, California. Kurt, who lives in Butler, Kentucky, is a pageant consultant.

Meet Your Partner

The five single men meet their partners at the starting line with Phil. So will romance bloom for these blind dating partners?

Ready, Set, Go!

The teams have to run along the side of the lake and participate in a muddy obstacle course. There are eight tickets for the first flight to Tokyo, Japan. The winner of the first leg of The Amazing Race will also win the Express Pass. Phil drops the news that there is a Blind U-Turn on this leg of the race.

Muddy Water

Slogging through the mud is, I am sure, not an activity that any of the teams enjoyed from the amount of grunting, whining and groaning that we heard. Then the teams had to plunge into a pool of ice water. Yikes!

Three couples are forced to take the later flight: Blair and Hayley, Mike and Rochelle and Libby and CJ.

Getting to Know You

When the couples reach Tokyo, there is a Blind U-Turn. On the drive to the airport, the blind date couples chat and get to know each other a bit. Blair Townsend seems really put off with his new partner’s bubbly personality. Other than that, the couples seem to be hitting it off.

Once the couples land, they must find Kanda Myojin. Several couples take taxis while others take a train. Blair and Hayley bicker about which direction to take when they get off the bus. Jelani and Jenny are the first to reach the clue box. It is a Detour, and teams must choose between Syncing Steps or Samurai Sake.

In Syncing Steps, teams must learn a slow robotic-looking style of dance and perform it correctly for the troupe leader. In Samurai Sake, teams must memorize the names of 10 bottles of sake, and take an order from a table of samurai while correctly repeating the order to their team mate at the bar.

Please Remember the Sake

At the sake challenge, Jackie tries her luck again at taking a sake order from a rowdy table of samurais. This time she and Jeff nail it and join the samurais for some sake before getting the next clue. Teams must next head to Wakaba Higashi Park, where the Blind U-Turn awaits. Jonathan and Harley also select the sake challenge, and get it on the first try.

Most of the teams select the dance challenge, but it is much more difficult than it appears because the moves are so stylized. Laura and Tyler are the first to successfully complete the task, and Matt is not a happy camper since he has had at least 12 attempts. Meanwhile, a very confused CJ and Libby try to figure out the bus station and the directions to the dancing task.

Finding Phil

Jackie and Jeff reach the Double U-Turn first but do not use it. Phil is waiting at a Pit Stop in a parking spot since parking in Tokyo is extremely hard to come by. The Pit Stop is located near the UDX building. Jeff and Jackie reach the parking structure first, and it is gigantic. Phil could be in there for days without being found. Jelani and Jenny are on the way to the UDX building, and spend a really long time deciding if Phil could be in the building if he “is in the vicinity.” This is the first time I have ever seen a clue broken down in such excruciating detail.

Jonathan and Harley are dropped off by their cab in the wrong location and Jonathan even resorts to blowing a whistle to try and summon help to rescue them from their predicament. A moment later they spy the U-Turn sign.

Keep On Dancing

Back at the dance Detour, Ashley and Matt finally receive their clue after trying the challenge 25 times. Mike and Rochelle, Libby and CJ and Jeff and Lyda are the only couples who haven’t completed the Detour. Finally, an exhausted Lyda and Jeff are the only ones left still trying to master the routine.

When Rochelle and Mike reach the U-turn, they U-Turn Lyda and Jeff while professing to “love you guys.” Well, I am sure that will comfort the U-Turned duo when they get the news.
Lyda and Jeff U-Turn Jeff and Jackie, thinking that they may still be hung up at the sake challenge. Lyda and Jeff complete the task on their first attempt, and boy could they use that sake toast with the samurais. CJ and Libby are lost and cannot find a taxi that knows where Wakaba Higashi Park is located.

The First to Arrive

In this case, the extra time spent analyzing the clue pays off when Jenny and Jelani reach the mat first and claim the Express Pass. They are followed by Jeff and Jackie, who ran right by the outside location. Tyler and Laura come in third place. So the blind daters are off to a strong start.

The Last to Arrive

Lyda and Jeff are the final team to reach the mat, and have been eliminated from The Amazing Race.

The Amazing Race airs Friday at 8 pm on CBS

(Image courtesy of CBS)

Kim Stempel

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

Kim has been covering television entertainment since 2013. She is addicted to Real Housewives, Pump Rules, Dancing with the Stars, and many more shows.