Season 30 makes Amazing Race history with the introduction of the Head-to-Head challenge
Credit: CBS

The Ballers said it best: “We were inches from stepping on the mat with Phil, but when we opened up our clue, it was different than anything in Amazing Race history. It was a challenge between two teams.” And with that breakdown of the brand new Head-to-Head challenge, the Ballers were the first to fall victim to it, getting bumped from their expected first place finish to a less gratifying second place.

Now, this aspect of the Head-to-Head feels a little sad to me: that a team could do everything right, and then, because they’re a foot taller than another team, or physically slower than another team, or not, say, Indy car racers, they could lose their lead — or even be eliminated — in an instant. However! I have to admit that watching Team Yale finally overcome the challenge on their seventh attempt was some deeply riveting stuff, and I may — may — have cried a little bit. When Henry tripped at the finish line?! Pure emotional chaos, and highly watchable.

Had Team Yale been eliminated, on the other hand, I may have very well hated the addition of the Head-to-Head. But since they ultimately overcame it, and I had a cathartic emotional moment alongside them (I mean, how did they not cry???), I found it rather exciting. I just hope the Head-to-Heads are used sparingly. But hey, we’re 30 seasons in — sometimes you gotta change it up to keep the romance alive, baby!

And speaking of romance, the episode opens on a dry heave. Kristi, who is rapidly becoming my hero and truly embodies the “competitive” theme of this season, is still recovering from the Icelandic Black Death they had to chug. But with an “I can’t believe we’re really doing this!” it’s on to the next clue: The teams are flying on the same plane to Amsterdam, then catching a train to Antwerp, where they have to arrive at a chocolate shop by 9 a.m. Everyone makes it on time, so on an equal playing ground, it’s on to the ROAD BLOCK: WHO’S READY TO GET HIGH? (Amazing Race is so sassy in its 30th outing!)

At the Road Block, one member of each team must climb a 100-foot rope ladder to grab their clue before the ladders start descending. Climbing that ladder looks physically grueling to me, but no one seems to have too much trouble with it…they just have to find it first. The crane from which the ladders are dangling is located on the waterfront about 1 kilometer from the chocolate shop, and the Ballers, Team WellStrung, Team Big Brother, and Team Chomp find it quickly, race up their ladders, and grab their next clue. Looking up at Jessica, Cody exclaims, “Gah, she’s fearless, I love her!” And you know what, I love these crazy Big Brother kids too, something that continues to be shocking every time I think it.

Most of the other teams struggle to find the 100-foot crane (yes, that’s shade), and end up trickling slowly into the DETOUR: OLD PRINT vs. DIAMOND GLINT. Phil tells us that few inventions have had more of an impact on civilization than the printing press, so in Old Print, the teams must create an old-fashioned printing press template to replicate (what turns out to be) their next clue. If they’re feeling a little more modern, apparently 80 percent of the world’s rough diamonds come to Antwerp to be cut, so in Diamond Glint, the teams are given three cut diamonds to evaluate based on their carat, color, and clarity, thereafter assigning the correct dollar value to all three diamonds.

Um, is it just me or does Diamond Glint sound impossible from the jump? Sure, putting all the little letter stamps backwards and in upside-down order would be detail oriented, but just becoming someone who can tell the color and clarity of diamonds seems impossible. But Team WellStrung, Team Chomp, the Indy Boys, and the Yogis don’t think so, because they waltz in to evaluate $80,000+ worth of diamonds.

Everyone else heads to Old Print to try their hand at arranging letters backward and in Dutch. Team Big Brother get there first and race through arranging their letters, but forget to use the dividers that separate the lines of text. Team Xtreme (previously Team Ski, but this seems appropriate because I swear, Kristi did some parkour at some point) quickly figures out that if they turn over their message and hold it up to the light, they can see how their letter stamps should work. Team Lifesaver later uses a similar trick with a mirror, but not before getting pretty far behind. (Recap continues on page 2)

The Twins are actually stamping the text on their own skin to make sure they’re getting the letter direction right, but that’s still not enough for them to figure it out, so even though they’re the last team at their own detour, they switch over to Diamond Glint, where they do at least find the Yogis still working on their diamond appraisals.

Not letting anymore letter nonsense get in their way, the Ballers are the first to head out of the detour after successfully printing their next clue, and they’re on their way to what they assume is the pit stop with Phil…when they get their next clue. That clue tells them one member of each newly arriving team will go HEAD-TO-HEAD around the Pit Stop, and “if you lose the last race after all the teams have competed you will be eliminated from the Race.” Meaning that you could have to run the Head-to-Head multiple times until you beat another team, and if you never do…well, you get Phil’s Sorrowful Eyebrow of Death.

In this case, that determining race means dressing up in a frites (Belgium!) costume and wheeling a dolly piled with eight large sacks of frites around a track to the Pit Stop mat. The first ever competitors in the TAR Head-to-Head are Baller Cedric vs. Big Brother Cody. Cedric is the first to say that Cody’s lower center of gravity will help him in wheeling that dolly around, and he’s right. Teams can switch out which teammate competes, so it’s on to Baller Shawn vs. Yale Henry. Shawn is also very tall, but he basically doubles his body over for the entire course, and Henry is never quite able to figure out how to steer the dolly. Yale Evan vs. Xtreme Kristi give it a try, and c’mon, that’s just not fair — Kristi zooms around the course, giving Yale its second bump in the ranks.

If it seems like I’m giving a play-by-play — not my usual style — just imagine Phil doing his own best Jeff Probst impression. A sample: “You can see it’s quite twisty through here.” Twisty, indeed! Yale Henry vs. WellStrung Chris sees Henry getting the hang of steering the dolly, but he’s exhausted by now, and Chris’ biceps look like they’ve lifted a frite bag or two in their day, so…Indy Alex vs. Yale Evan is once again completely hopeless for Yale. Alex is a professional racer who won the Indy 500 last year, and he’s got the race lingo to prove it. The swerves get the best of Henry’s third attempt in Yale Henry vs. Lifesaver Lucas, and Evan is simply exhausted for Chomp Tim vs. Yale Evan.

Team Yale arrived third, and they just lost out on seventh place, but they’ve stayed positive the entire time, and when they see Team Yogi approaching, they tell each other, “It’s now or never” — though the Twins are still to come, it’s unlikely they’d beat a fresh firefighter. Henry says that his biggest problem has been controlling the cart, so if he keeps to the middle of the track, rather than trying to hug the inside, he just might take the victory in Yoga April vs. Yale Henry…and he’s right! It’s a close call, and Henry literally trips over the finish line, but Team Yale’s sixth attempt around the track, they finally make it to the mat. As for the final two teams…

1: TEAM BIG BROTHER wins the second leg, the first ever head-to-head, and $2,500 each.







8: TEAM YALE!!!!!!!!

9: THE TWINS: April and Sarah decide that April knows the track, so she takes one more spin around in Yogi April vs. Twin Daniel, and it proves their downfall. Daniels tells April, “We’re sorry, I wish we didn’t have to do that,” and the Head-to-Head elimination does feel particularly personal….

ELIMINATED: TEAM YOGI at least went out in good spirits and without fussing or calling each other “little Bs” for the entire leg. “It’s just another crazy April-and-Sarah thing we did,” says Sarah. Let us never forget…these women invented Goat Yoga.

So, what did you think of the addition of the Head-to-Head challenge, TAR historians? Is there too much left to chance and fatigue right at the Pit Stop mat? Or is it just the right amount of competitive chaos? Also, do you think the teams weren’t allowed to pull the dolly behind them? Or is that just a dumb idea on my part that I would have immediately had to course-correct 10 seconds after trying it out? Sound off in the comments!

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The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.

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