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TV Show
S30 E2
January 10, 2018 at 09:00 PM EST

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)

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Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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