A 30-minute penalty leads to the closest finish in TAR's 30-season history
You're A Champion, Prove It
Credit: Timothy Kuratek/CBS

It’s the 30th season of The Amazing Race. We’re back baby — and with a photo finish, no less. Though they couldn’t possibly have planned it as such, having the 30th premiere of The Amazing Race come down to a 30-second race to the mat because of a 30-minute penalty is simply serendipitous numerics. Phil was practically trembling is his cargo pants while proclaiming it the closest TAR finish ever.

And since a 30th anniversary is traditionally the stuff of diamonds and roses, it only makes sense that we would be treated to the most premium, primetime players for this one. Are we talking All-Stars? No. Are we talking all pro athletes? No. Are we talking social media stars? I kid, I kid! Of course not. As it turns out, we’re just talking teams who are, like…pretty competitive. But Phil insists throughout the premiere that these 11 duos are “the most competitive racers ever assembled.”

That might sound like a pretty obvious theme for the 30th season, but I would wager that these teams are full of a few more surprises than one might one expect. The debaters don’t seem to argue very much; the couple from Big Brother might not have the sharpest optics, but they definitely know what they’re doing here; the yoga women are…really, really not chill; and the beefy hunks? Members of a string quartet! Let’s get to know them all a little better before they start their — wait for the eyebrow — rrrrrrace around the world.

TEAM EAT, Joey & Tim: Did you know that competitive eaters have stage names? They do! No. 1 and 2 in the world go by Joey “Jaws” Chestnut and Tim “Eater X” Janus. Joey is at the top of his craft with records such as 72 hot dogs in 10 minutes and 141 hardboiled eggs in 6 minutes. This team is wearing very shiny green track suits, and are quite slim…both of which are equally confusing.

THE BALLERS, Cedric & Shawn: Continuing with the theme of true champions, these two former NBA players have a slew of basketball titles and accolades between them, and also, if stood atop one another’s shoulders, could probably re-shingle a roof with ease. “Running the Amazing Race is gonna be a slam dunk,” they say, starting a grand tradition of puns among the uber-competitive.

THE RING GIRLS, Dessie & Kayla: We’ve got some self-proclaimed underdogs on our hands! And while I don’t discredit the petite modeling industry or the sector of the boxing industry that they fill as ring women, I’m a little unclear on what makes them one of the top 11 competitive teams in the history of the show. Do you remember those insane dentists? Don’t lie to me, Phil!

TEAM SKI, Kristi & Jen, on the other hand, are a little more what I’d expect. They’re world champion X-Games skiers who at some point say that they had to stop competing because their sport was deemed too dangerous…in a field where people literally just fling themselves off cliffs on various pieces of wood.

THE INDY BOYS, Alex & Conor: These pals are both IndyCar drivers, and Alex won the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. But, they’re main thing is that Conor is sleeping on Alex’s couch right now in Indianapolis, and he really needs to get his own place. So, of course, “We have to cross the finish line first and get that checkered flag.”

TEAM BIG BROTHER, Cody & Jessica: These two. The Big Brother franchise has a long history within The Amazing Race, and it’s…mostly intolerable, if not necessarily unsuccessful. But it seems like Cody and Jessica, a romance born of being trapped in a house together, might just prove to be that charming-maybe-actually-smart-and-capable kind of dumb.

TEAM LIFESAVER, Lucas & Brittany: And in another cringeworthy tradition of the otherwise flawless Amazing Race, Lucas and Brittany are a couple who’s been dating for soooo long, and the lady is just soooo ready for the feet-dragging man to propose. And, would you believe it? Lucas brought a ring. Okay, okay, these two actually seem fun, and they’ve, uh, saved 1,000 lives between the two of them as Ocean Rescue lifeguards, so that’s pretty cool.

THE YOGIS, April & Sarah: Sarah saying, “I’ve been doing yoga for 20 years,” followed by April announcing, “AND I HAVE A TON OF GOATS!” cracked me up perhaps more than anything else in the premiere (except maybe April later calling Sarah “a little B”). I think that these two invented goat yoga, which is a thing, but is perhaps the opposite of competitive. And yet, I’m glad to have them around, because, wowzers.

TEAM YALE, Henry & Evan, are a coupl’a datin’ debatin’ champions. They met at Yale when they were paired up as debate partners, and I guess they’ve been very successfully arguing ever since. Their age and general bookishness made me doubt them, but joke’s on me, because these two are the real deal competitive

THE TWINS, Eric & Daniel, are just some country twins who love each other, love being twins, love being firefighters, and seem down to have a good time, if not a particularly competitive time.

TEAM WELL-STRUNG, Trevor & Chris: I mean…this name. How could I possibly resist? Trevor and Chris are a pair of hot, well-muscled, well-groomed…string quartet members?? Their quartet is, indeed, called Well-Strung, and they continue with that level of silliness throughout the episode. For me, I knew it was love from the moment Trevor said of his fellow competitors (whom Chris had just deemed soooo nice): “Without malice, we will destroy them.” Put it on the crest, Phil. (Recap continues on page 2)

Speaking of Phil, it’s time for him to get the racers started in Washington Square Park, where they immediately have to retrieve their first clue from a fountain that sends them to Reykjavik, Iceland. Straight from the plane, the teams have to hop in cars, which seems unusually sudden for driving, but is a good way to assess the teamwork right off the bat. Yale? Great, they arrive at Geitargljufur River first to zipline out across the rushing water and retrieve their next clue. Big Brother? Good, with very funny…can we call this banter?

Cody: Shockingly, these other teams aren’t dumb.

Jessica: We’re not on Big Brother anymore.

Cody: We…lost that.

And the Yogis? Bad; oh so very, very bad. April got directions from the flight attendant, but Sarah didn’t like that she didn’t know them ahead of time, but April says Sarah was sleeping the whole trip. Then Sarah goes on map duty, but spends the whole time berating April for not being good at reading a map, continues to imitate things April has said thus far on the car ride, and then — not kidding — mockingly asks her if she’s “going to cry again.” It is…not zen, very uncomfortable, and also a little bit delicious. Needless to say, they’re the second to last to arrive at the river clue, which leads everyone to…

Mount Esjumelur for season 30’s very first ROAD BLOCK: DO I HAVE TO SPELL IT OUT? One member of each team must ride passenger with an expert off-road buggy driver through Esjumelur’s riverbeds, spotting large letters that that should spell out “INGÓLFSTORG,” with tiles back at the front of the river. The large letters have small numbers on them, to indicate which order the corresponding tiles should go in. Making the connection between the letters and the numbers proves easy enough for all but Conor, who seems to think…he was just looking at the letters out in the riverbed for fun? I don’t know. What I like to think that I know is that if I were arranging a word with two Os and one had an accent, and one didn’t, and I was sure I had the letters in the right order, then was told I was wrong, I would just immediately switch those two Os.

But hey, maybe under all the pressure, such an easy fix is not so obvious. Mr. McYale, Henry, loses their first place spot because he can’t figure out that his Os are mixed up, and do you know who keeps the Os straight with no problem? Cody from Big Brother. “Babe, you just beat a Yale graduate in a spelling competition,” exclaims Jessica as they head toward Ingólfstorg Square in first place. “Well, some say…I am…smart?” responds Cody. Indeed, buddy.

Once at the square, they have to track down the female body builder, a.k.a. “modern Viking,” and answer her two questions: “What do Icelanders call ‘The Black Death’?” and “What is Porskalysi?” The answers are Brennivín liquor and cod liver oil, respectively, which proves easy enough to learn from the many local bystanders. What proves less easy…

Those damn Os! The Ballers arrived at the Road Black early, and after one spin around the riverbed, Shawn had his letters in the right order…all except those Os, and I don’t know if it’s a vision thing, but he cannot figure it out. Cedric even hollers, “Pay attention to the Os, the Os, the Ps, the Ps,” from the sidelines, but Shawn doesn’t hear him. (Tuck that in your back pocket though.) You guys, I’m not kidding, Shawn is still there when the Yogis arrive and when he and Sarah are the last two competing, he goes over and asks if they should help each other out. He then proceeds to help place all her letters, but she gets her Os right, so immediately is able to leave, and it still takes him about eight back-and-forths comparing before he realizes his accented O is in the wrong place. It’s tough stuff.

But from there, it’s a hop skip and a jump around the square, then over to the PIT STOP at REYKJAVIKURTJORN lake. The Ballers are able to make up a lot of time grabbing a nearby parking space, whereas The Ring Girls lose a lot of time parking, and that’s just the beginning of what Phil calls the closest finish in Race history:

1: TEAM SKI: A trip to Santorini and the glory of winning for two professional competitors — not bad. But Kristi and Jen agree this just means they have their work cut out for them to keep at the front of the pack.

2: BIG BROTHER: Cody and Jessica lost their lead because Cody wouldn’t listen to Jessica’s correct assessment that they were right by the lake. Cody apologizes and assures us that they’ve gotten most of their mistakes out of the way now…please don’t let that be true.

3: TEAM YALE: They lost their lead, but they’re still ones to watch.

4: WELL-STRUNG: They rushed up to fourth place out of nowhere!

5: THE INDY BOYS: I don’t know why Phil was giving the guys such a hard time in front of welcome mat representative Miss Iceland, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. She tries to say that it’s “fun” that Colin lives with Alex, but Phil insists, “No, it’s terribly sad.” What a scoundrel!

6: TEAM EAT: Phil’s got more jokes, which are for some reason about Joey storing all the hot dogs he eats in his feet.

7: TEAM LIFESAVERS: Great job and all but we got drama coming up…

8: THE TWINS: Wait, they don’t belong this high up. And that’s because The Ballers manage to speed through the Ingólfstorg challenge, knock back their cod liver oil, and land at Phil’s feet in eighth place. But because Cedric yelled out advice to Shawn — even though Cedric swears it was innocent and Shawn swears he didn’t hear it — they have to take a seat for a 30 minute penalty, with the Yogis and the Ring Girls both having left the initial Road Block before them…

9: THE BALLERS: But between parking errors, and I guess just general slowness, the clock ticks down to 15 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 30 seconds, before the other two teams come into sight right beside each other. Phil tells them “this is as close as it gets,” but they’re very much still in the game despite two crucial errors.

10: TEAM YOGI: Well no one saw this coming! But it came down to a foot race, and though Sarah and Dessie were neck and neck for last, Sarah just barely made it in first.

ELIMINATED: Dessie and Kayla were sweet to each other through and through; perhaps they just didn’t have the thrumming competitive spirit some of the other teams do. What did you think of this 30th season premiere? Can my TAR historians tell me if it was unusual not to have an official Detour in the premiere? Why did all the teams have armloads of shopping bags as they arrived on the mat? Who are your early predictions for top 3? Sound off in the comments!

Episode Recaps

The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.

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