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Sizing Up the New ‘Amazing Race’ Cast: NKOTB, Olympians and 10 Blind Daters

TheWrap exclusively interviews the long running CBS competition’s new crew and weighs in on their chances

Five couples on a blind date, one New Kid, and two Olympians are among the newest crop of teams racing around the world for a $1 million dollar prize.

There are no parent-child teams, no siblings,  no friends, and not even any married couples. The new “The Amazing Race” is all dating couples.

For the blind daters, if they get along well, they will go from strangers to co-habitating, globe-trotting couples in a matter of hours. These five will have to figure out their ultimate goal: romance, a race, or both. Just before the start of the race, TheWrap sat down for exclusive interviews with all of the cast.

What We’ll Call Them: #TeamNewKids

“New Kid on the Block” Jonathan Knight and Boyfriend, Trainer Harley Rodriguez

(Getty Images; Monty Brinton/CBS)

(Getty Images; Monty Brinton/CBS)

Existing Couple: 6 Years

Strangest thing to see on an application:
“I am a member of pop group New Kids On The Block.”

Can they/will they play the Celebrity Card to their advantage?:

Jonathan: “No”

Harley: “Yes” (at the same time)

Jonathan: “Airline stewardesses. We always get the complimentary bottle of champagne. I’m not Oprah famous.”

(It’s not just Jonathan. Harley has a cult following as a Barry’s Boot Camp Master Instructor.)

Road to the Race:

Jonathan and Harley applied for the previous four seasons. It never worked out because it was “tour time,” Knight says. He got a call this year to ask about his availability.

Racers are only allowed to fly coach. Does Jonathan Knight Know What the Back of a Plane Looks Like?

Yes. “I fly coach all the time. I have a rule. If it’s Boston to L.A., most of the time it’s coach. If I’m going international on a longer flight, then I bump it up to business class.” When they fly together in coach, Jonathan always likes to sit window and makes Harley sit middle (“I’m the littler guy,” Harley says.)

What are YOU going to do with a million dollars?

“I’m not going out and buying a Ferrari or something like that. I’ve always wanted to start a foundation,” Knight says.

Have they ever eaten a “Wahlburger”?

Jonathan: “I’ve had a few Wahlburgers in my day.”

Harley: “I’ve never had one”

Jonathan: “They’re pretty good.”

Anticipated Theme Music:

“The Right Stuff” or “Hanging Tough”

Early Impression:

Nobody recognized Knight, not even when he stepped away from the group to do a phone interview with People magazine, the only cast member plucked. They look fit, smart, and ready. A Final 3 pick. These guys are humble and likeable.


CBS has had retired athletes, pop singers, and Super Bowl-winning coach Jimmy Johnson on their shows. No high profile person has ever won a series.

What We’ll Call Them: #TheOlympians

Aly Dudek, 24, South Salt Lake, UT, Speed Skating Olympian and Bronze Medalist

Steve Langton, 31, Park City, UT, 2-time Olympian and 2-time World Champion Bobsledder

Langton with his medals. Aly is also an Olympic medalist. (Getty Images; Monty Brinton/CBS)

Langton with his medals. Aly is also an Olympic medalist. (Getty Images; Monty Brinton/CBS)

Existing Relationship: 7 Months (at the time of the race. Now 10 months)

What They Packed: Not their medals.

Can They Change the Curse of Professional Athletes on CBS Reality Shows?:

Steve: “I never think of us as professional athletes. We’re definitely “blue collar” professional athletes if you’re going to call us anything.”

Aly: “Olympic athletes are actually considered amateurs, but it’s what I’ve been doing since I was 7.”

Road to the Race:

One day earlier this year, they flew from opposite sides of the country to meet up in Utah, shoot a video together, and send it in to meet a casting deadline.

View of the Competition:

Aly: There’s one team here that we were at casting with a few months ago. We came to refer to them as the ‘Duck Dynasty’ team (#TeamTattoo/Plaid/Mike and Rochelle).

Last Words Before Heading to the Starting Line:

Aly: “Read the clue and do exactly what it says.”

Early Impression:

Front of the packers. Up there with Matt and Ashley. Bet on them to cross the finish line (in some place).

What The Viewers Will Call Them: The Vegas Showgirl and That Guy

(Jackie Ibarra Instagram; Monty Brinton/CBS)

(Jackie Ibarra Instagram; Monty Brinton/CBS)

Blind Date Girl: Jacklyn (“Jackie”) Ibarra, 26, Las Vegas – Professional Dancer

Blind Date Guy: Jeff Weldon, 26, Tampa, FL – Cloud Based Software Sales

Is Jackie friends with Vegas-based professional dancers and “Amazing Race” alums the Chippendales?

She does not know the Chippendales nor the Vegas showgirls, four dancers from the Strip who featured heavily on previous “Amazing Race” seasons.

Jackie’s Road to the Race:

The Miami Heat helped seed the casting for single women to their dance team alums and Jacklyn said “I’d totally do that show.” “I had not heard from (the Heat) in six years,” she said. She has not been on a TV show before. “This is a gooood one. I can show my characteristics, my personality.”

Jeff’s Road to the Race:

Jeff had applied with his model ex-girlfriend previously, who knew someone in the casting department. “She’s going to be pissed,” he says.

Travel Resume: Mixed

Jeff has never been outside the U.S. and is getting his first passport stamp ever when he lands in the first country. “I’m a Florida bro, we do spring break in like Key West and Panama City. That’s where everyone wants to go.” Jackie is better traveled. She has been to China professionally a few times.

Jackie’s Last Words Before Heading to the Starting Line to Meet Her Partner:

“I’m single. I’m looking for (love). I live in Las Vegas. I have major douchebags 24/7, so I’m just looking for the one. You can win-win on this show (romantically, and the race), and I’m looking to ‘win-win.’ I won’t be satisfied unless I win-win.”

Also: “I’ve never been on a blind date before. This is soooo scary. Whether I like him or not, we are struck together. He can’t leave me. He’s stuck with me.”

Jeff’s Last Words Before Heading to the Starting Line to Meet His Partner:

“I have a pretty good feeling that they matched me up with someone that’s going to be somewhat compatible. I did tell them that I don’t want a girl that’s a scrub, doesn’t take care of herself. Smells like sh-t. She has to have personal hygiene. She has to have that in check, man. Has to brush her teeth. Doesn’t have weird hair – like armpit hair, hairy legs. I want the hot athletic chick.” (He looked thrilled when he met Jackie.)

Match on Paper:

Strong. Both are 26, have “J” names, and Jeff used to date a model from Miami. Jackie is an ex-Miami Heat dancer. I can see these two hitting on each other next to a pool in Vegas. Feels like a match.

Early Impression:

Jackie jumps in to Jeff’s arms upon meeting him.

Blind Date: The Fashion Blogger Lawyer and Sports Agent Lawyer, #TheGlamourLawyers

Fashion lawyer turned fashion blogger Jenny Wu and sports agent lawyer Jelani Roy. (GoodBadandFab.com; MontyBrinton/CBS)

Fashion lawyer turned fashion blogger Jenny Wu and sports agent lawyer Jelani Roy. (GoodBadandFab.com; MontyBrinton/CBS)


Blind Date Girl: Jenny Wu, 32, Los Angeles, Fashion Lawyer turned Fashion Blogger

Blind Date Guy: Jelani Roy, 32, NY, NY, Sports Lawyer

“Amazing Race” Destiny?

In addition to her own site, Good Bad and Fab,  Wu contributes to fashion blog “The Divine Addiction,” alongside fellow fashion pundit Stassi Schroeder. Schroeder known for “Vanderpump Rules” made a never-mentioned-now appearance on the oddball “The Amazing Race Families” season when she was 17.

What She Did Not Pack:

Blogger, or her laptop. She pre-wrote and cued posts to fire three times a week for a month while she was away so “it’s as if I was there.”

Jenny’s Road to the Race:

“I found them.” She initially applied with a longtime female friend. Every half year we’d be like “We need to be on that show!” After always missing the deadlines, they made a video together. She submitted it at 1 a.m. on a Monday and got a call the next day, that they only wanted her, not her partner. Jenny had to make the phone call to her partner and be vague about the “singles” concept. Eventually she found out she made the show while leaving a hot yoga class at Yogaworks.

Jelani’s Road to the Race:

Jelani first applied with a college ex-girlfriend from his undergrad days at Wisconsin a few years ago.

Jenny’s Last Words Before Heading to the Starting Line to Meet Her Partner:

“There’s another huge piece to this puzzle yet to be seen. Finding love, especially on a reality show, is one a couple million. Winning a million dollars on ‘The Amazing Race’, that’s 1-in-11, so let’s make that happen.”

Jelani’s Last Words Before Heading to the Starting Line to Meet His Partner:

“It’s super intense. I know married people. I have married friends and they don’t like traveling together. We have never even met and we’re supposed to be dating and going traveling together.”

Early Impression:

They are both well traveled and smart. Jelani is the one person out of 22 that come to the starting line not dressed in workout gear. He has been to 40 countries and six of the seven continents.

Blind Date: The TV Producer and the App Builder , #TeamSantaMonica

(Monty Brinton/CBS)

(Monty Brinton/CBS)

Blind Date Girl: Laura Pierson, 29, Sherman Oaks (The Valley), CA, Talent Booker for TV Shows

Blind Date Guy: Tyler Adams, 26, Santa Monica via Florida – App Developer

Laura’s Road to the Race:

Laura made a tape with her roommate five years ago. From that process, she had met CBS casting director Lynne Spillman and had seen her during that process.

Five years later in June 2014, Laura got starstruck when she recognized Spillman walk in to the Water Grill in Santa Monica. “She’s a big deal. I got to look like I’m having a good time,” she told her friend. “So I have a drink in my hand, and I start giggling and laughing, and my friend is like ‘What are you doing?’”.

Lynne came over. This conversation took place:

Spillman: “Would you ever want to be on “The Amazing Race”?

Laura: “Not only would I want to, I’ve been trying to get on the show for five years.”

Spillman did not remember her then nor remember her later. Laura says she “stalked” Spillman, found her on facebook, and followed up with her.

Tyler’s Road to the Race:

Tyler had previously applied to the show with a friend. Then, lightning struck. During his first week living on the west coast, Lynne Spillman scouted him at Brent Bolthouse’s westside hotspot Bungalow on Fourth of July weekend. She gauged his interest in “Survivor.” He told her that he had applied for “The Amazing Race” and she said “Interesting, we should talk.” “You can look me up,” Spillman said. He had been having a few drinks and went and looked her up that night to authenticate her. She emailed him a few days later.

What Tyler Did Not Pack:

He created a social physical video challenge app (before the ALS craze took off). In a timing fluke, it was supposed to launch while he was offline on the race.

Flight Strategy:

He’s 6’4. He asked and was told he did not have to sit next to his partner so he could angle for emergency exit rows and neither of them would be forced in to a middle seat.

Laura’s Last Words Before Heading to the Starting Line to Meet Her Partner:

“I’m a really positive person. I believe in positive affirmations. If I go out on a date with someone, I think ‘This guy is going to be great. We’re really going to get along,’ and then it happens.”

Tyler’s Last Words Before Heading to the Starting Line to Meet Her Partner:

“It sound like it’s going to be ‘Hey, I’m Tyler.’ (Then, she will respond) ‘Hey, I’m beautiful’ …hopefully.”

Early Impression:

Laura works in TV. She will be used to the hours and the pace. On a set visit at the start of the race, “Entertainment Tonight’s” Kevin Frazier recognized her from when she worked on “Entertainment Tonight.” These two had immediate chemistry on the starting line and are a tight match on paper. I’d bet on them for final 3 and a legit romance.

Blind Date: The Blonde Nurse and the Navy Doc, Team #NorthFloridaMed

(Monty Brinton/CBS)

(Monty Brinton/CBS)

Blind Date Girl: Hayley Keel, 28, Tampa, FL, Nurse

Blind Date Guy: Blair Townsend, 31, Jacksonville, FL, Navy Physician

Hayley’s Road to the Race:

She applied and is not a recruit. Hayley drove 16 hours to a community college in Biloxi, Mississippi for an open casting call. She applied with a male friend and get parsed out to be a single. The “left-behind” guy has no idea that she ever moved on in the casting process.

Blair’s Road to the Race:

He applied in 2012 with his dad. “My video was somehow found for this upcoming season.”

Hayley’s Foreign Travel Experience:

The cruise ship destinations only. “Nowhere exciting,” she says. “I live in Florida. We go on cruises.”

Hayley’s Last Words Before Heading to the Starting Line to Meet Her Partner:

“I gotta meet this guy. I gotta see what he is about. I got to get to know this character. I asked for tall, dark, and handsome. Not a weirdo. Not mean.”

Blair’s Last Words Before Heading to the Starting Line to Meet His Partner:

“There’s a little bit of anxiety around being first off. That would be pretty embarrassing. One little mistake you make, and then you’re off. ”

Early Impression:

Blair has the smallest personality of the group. Physically, he will be fine. He has completed two Ironmans. Hayley is smarter than she looks.

Viewers Will Call Them: “The All Guy Team” or “The Gay Guys.” Bergen wants to be slugged as “#TeamFabulous”

(Monty Brinton/CBS)

(Monty Brinton/CBS)

Blind Date Guy (left): Kurt Belcher, 24, Builder, KY – Pageant Consultant

Blind Date Guy (right): Bergen Olsen, 23, Sunnyvale, CA – Human Resources

Does Kentucky Kurt know Mallory, the two-time pageant girl racer from Kentucky?

Short answer: not really.

“We don’t know each other personally real real well. We’ve chatted at pageants before. We’ve gotten some pictures together that are on my facebook.”

Kurt’s Road to the Race:

Recruited – a casting department proxy in Cincinnati referred him, slipped them his facebook page, and he was scouted him off of his Facebook page. “Apparently thousands of people still apply, but I was recruited.”

CBS Destiny?

Kurt’s elementary school gym teacher’s father, Rodger Bingham, was on the second season of “Survivor.”

Bergen’s Road to the Race:

He was recruited over to the “Race.” He tried out for “Big Brother” a few times and that was his first love. In fairness, “I’ve been watching this show ever since I was a little kid. I am a reality TV fan.” (He was bummed that while leaving for the race, he missed the end of this past fall’s “Survivor: San Juan del Sur”)


A foreign volleyball team recruited Bergen to play internationally.


Kurt is smart. Without knowing the full cast composition, Kurt correctly predicted that the season would be a mix of blind date and established couples, and that the whole theme would be a “romantic season.” He was right.

Bergen’s Last Words Before Heading to the Starting Line to Meet His Partner:

“My wishlist was someone mature and stable in their career. In regards to appearance, tall, kind of like the all-American guy, muscular, likes sports, athletic. Good smile. To be honest, all the guys are good looking.”

Gut Impression:

Neither of these guys has ever been out of the country – never a good sign.

What We’ll Call Them: #TeamTattoo or “The Beard and Flannel”

Mike and Rochelle The Amazing Race

Mike Dombrowski, 26, Traverse City, Michigan, Wrestling Promoter

Rochelle Nevedal, 29, Kalkaska, Michigan, Contract Engineer/Plays Roller Derby &

Existing Couple: Two Years

Gut Reaction:

Didn’t we just have wrestlers make it to the final leg last season? Newbies Mike and Rochelle have friends that know last season’s Brooke and Robbie, and know who they are, but the four are not friends.

Road to the Race:

Mike originally applied for “Big Brother.” Rochelle had never applied to any shows.

Their View of the Competition:

Rochelle: “We are definitely the team that sticks out a little bit. We are definitely not as fit as everyone else.“

Mike: We don’t look like everyone else. I’m sure they are nice people but they all look like workout junkies. We’re just people with a beard and tattoos. Average people.”

Last Word Before Heading to the Starting Line: “We might have to dump stuff.”

Early Impression:

They will lose any footrace. Last spotted at the back of the pack immediately after the start. Fans will like them. They are not the typical model-actor-trainer-bartender cookie cutter reality prototype.

What We’ll Call Them: #TeamTuskeegee / The Funny Couple 

(Monty Brinton/CBS)

(Monty Brinton/CBS)

Lebya Simpson, 24, Tuskeegee, Alabama, Patient Representative

CJ Harris, 24, Tuskegee, Alabama, I.T. Guy

Existing Couple Since: “Basically all of our lives.”

What They Want You To Know:

Lebya: “We’re not the average black couple.”

TheWrap: “What is the average black couple?”

Lebya: “You know, with the bad rap, and all this…”

CJ: “You know, not what you see in media, the stereotypical black couple.”

Lebya: “We’d be great on TV.”

Road to the Race:

This is their first time applying to any show. Lebya saw an ad at work and they made a video on their Ipad in one take. These guys were not recruited. They got the good news on CJ’s birthday.

Last Words Before Heading to the Starting Line:

Lebya: “Team Southern Hospitality!”

CJ: “[The name] ‘Southern Hospitality’ is horrible. I do not want that at all.

Lebya: “Team “Bama”

CJ: “No, I’m an Auburn fan.”

First Impression:

Uh oh. I saw some winded walking within a few hundred yards of the starting line.

What We’ll Call Them: #MASH / Purple / Don’t Call Them ‘Jersey Shore’

(Monty Brinton/CBS)

(Monty Brinton/CBS)

Matt Cucolo, 30, Scarsdale, New York, Master Hairstylist/National Bodybuilding Competitor

Ashley Gordon, 28, Scardsale, New York, Hairstylist / Bikini Competition Competitor

Existing Couple: Three Years (Known 10)

First Words:

“They told us they won’t do that to us.” (That = call us “Jersey Shore”)

“We are definitely not Jersey Shore. We are New Yorkers.”

Road to the Race:

It all started when Matt dated Ashley’s roommate in 2004. Later, they “kept running in to each other randomly one summer” and now three years later, here they are. Ashley did the early leg work and got a response from casting within 24 hours. They were casual fans before they got cast. Now: “We’re obsessed with it. You name something and we know everything about it,” Matt says.

Their View of the Competition:

Matt: “I have so much energy, I am not even worried about the sleep factor. My adrenaline goes man. Everyone is drinking Red Bull over there. I can’t imagine doing that.”

Last Words Before Heading to the Starting Line:

“I’m not going to cry only because I made a promise to my brother who has a bet with his friends.” – Ashley

Early Impression:

They bolted off the starting line. They were about 30 yards ahead of the pack in a blaze of purple. Both Matt and Ashley were front of the pack. Look out.

What We’ll Call Them: “The Airline Couple” / #CrewCouple / “The Olds?”

(Monty Brinton/CBS)

(Monty Brinton/CBS)

Jeff Magee, 56, Scottsdale, Arizona, Pilot for Southwest Airlines

Lyda Grawn, 48, Scottsdale, AZ, Flight Attendant

Existing Couple: Known for 20 years, dating for 4 years.

Gut Reaction:

They see themselves as “the older couple.” I see them as skewing younger than previous “older” couples and looking fit.

Road to the Race:

Jeff heard though pilot friends that the show was looking for a dating couple. Lyda was a big fan and they have been watching together for three years. They would DVR it and wait until they were both home from a trip, grab a drink, and nest on the couch for screenings.

Early Impression:

Obviously well traveled and will be strong on logistics. Mid-pack finish.

Their View of the Competition:

“We see youth. They could all be our kids.” – Jeff

“We’re the oldies.” – Lyda

Last Words Before Heading to the Starting Line:

“We’re the crew couple. Hashtag, Crew-Couple.”