9:00am PT by Kimberly Nordyke
'Amazing Race' Introduces New Feature for Season 26 (Exclusive)
The Amazing Race teams are getting introspective this season.
In a first, the 11 teams competing on the CBS reality show were armed with selfie cams that allowed them to take photos of their travels around the world; the team selfies will be shown on the air.
It's another first for the reality show, which this season also features an all-dating theme, in which half of the teams are pre-existing couples and the other half are singles who are being set up on blind dates with their teammates at the starting line on what is being called "the most extreme blind date ever."
Host Phil Keoghan noted than when Race first premiered, people were still using flip phones and the idea of taking photos or videos with cellphones wasn't even imaginable to most people.
"We were still watching shows on VHS," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "The idea that we could send a text, woo! That was cutting-edge in 2001. Technology has completely changed the way we experience our world, and The Amazing Race lends itself to sharing the world using new media in new and different ways. We thought it was a cool way for the teams to be able to share their point of view, through the lends of our Racers, as opposed to how we shoot them."
The selfies will be shown on the air and also shared on CBS.com along with the teams' Instagram pages and Twitter feeds. See two below.
Blind date team Jeffrey and Jacklyn
Blind date team Tyler and Laura
The couples traveling around the world include New Kids on the Block member Jonathan Knight and his partner Harley Rodriguez and Olympic medalists Aly Dudek and Steven Langton. Dudek won bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in short track speed skating and Langton won two bronze medals at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in bobsledding.
Of the show's most famous contestant this season, Keoghan said: "Jonathan Knight surprised me. He had a lot of success at a very early age, and I thought he might be a little entitled or cocky; he's used to being pampered and looked after. But I couldn't have been more wrong. This is the nicest guy; he has no ego. And he is in a great relationship. It was a real pleasure having him on the Race."
Among the competitors being set up on blind dates are a Navy physician and a registered nurse and two lawyers.
"Most people on a blind date have an out; the reason I call this the most extreme blind date ever is because you're not just able to [pay] the coffee bill and leave," Keoghan said. "You're actually [competing for] $1 million over 21 days and 35,000 miles in a race around the world. If you know of a more extreme first date, please tell me."
As part of the new "dating duos" twist, the teams will have the opportunity to win a new "date night" reward, wherein one couple will take part in a romantic activity such as a night at a hot springs resort in Nagano, Japan, or star-gazing at the Bavarian Public Observatory in Munich, Germany.
"The question we're putting out there is, is this possible to find love on a 35,000-mile race around the world," said Keoghan, who is quick to point out that the show isn't becoming The Bachelor. "It's not a format change. This is still The Amazing Race as you know it, and everything you've come to love about the Race. It's really the antithesis of that dating type of situation on TV where you're relaxed, candles are burning, you put on makeup and go on a date. This is people seeing each other at their worst; they're cranky, tired, jet-lagged, smelly, eating god knows what, traveling to the ends of the earth."
This season finds the teams traveling to five continents and eight countries for a total of more than 35,000 miles.
"These are the biggest relationship transformations you've ever seen, from that first moment when they meet each other and they're on their best behavior, and then cut to 21 days later," Keoghan said. "You get to see what happens between the starting line and the finish line, and to the dynamic of two people who have never met each other before — you don't normally get to see that transformation [in the teams] when they are pre-existing couples. It's really captivating."
The Amazing Race's 90-minute premiere airs at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 25, following the premiere of Survivor. It moves to its regular time slot at 8 p.m. Fridays two days later.