The Amazing Race Review, Season 20, Episode 3, “Bust Me Right in the Head with It”
Airs Sundays at 8pm (ET) on CBS
In the past few years, The Amazing Race has faced criticism from long-time fans about easy challenges that involved more luck than skill. This changed slightly last season with harder clues, but the trickiest part was usually deciphering the messages. It’s been refreshing this time around to see challenging tasks that push the teams out of their comfort zones. This week, nearly everyone struggles to complete the leg and even strong teams start falling apart. In the show’s first visit to Paraguay, the excitement builds to an extremely close finish between two athletic teams. Last week’s exit for the Clowns was predictable, but the endless series of twists and turns make this a surprising classic.
“Bust Me Right in the Head with It” maintains this season’s unpredictable feeling and continues the upward trend for each successive episode. The Philimination victims are a surprise, especially since twins Elliot and Andrew were barely seen in the first two weeks. Even the weakest teams usually get a few more interviews than this duo. Survivor has basically edited certain players out of that show, but there hasn’t been a similar case with The Amazing Race until this point. The brothers seem like nice guys, so the editors likely couldn’t find the right storyline for them. It’s really strange when compared to the repeated clips of Nary and Jamie describing their lies about being teachers. If there was time to present that fact frequently, there had to be a few minutes for Elliot and Andrew! Despite the limited presence, they compete well after struggling mightily at the Detour. It’s a classy finish and works even better due to the tense final battle with Ralph and Vanessa.
The episode begins in Buenos Aires as teams scramble to get on the earliest fly to Asuncion, Paraguay. The top four teams grab a two-hour lead, with Nary and Jamie sliding by Brendon and Rachel for the final spot. Because of excellent game design, this gap wouldn’t be enough to guarantee their final placement. The first stop in Paraguay is an equipment supplier that apparently sells barbecue pits and playground equipment. After comically going down a slide, each team locates a clue and heads to a nasty Detour. There is no easy choice, and the physical task is also deceptively precise. The options are creating a large watermelon pyramid in “Stacked Up” or placing strings in a harp in “Strung Out”. Everyone but Elliot and Andrew takes the first choice, which appears straightforward but is no picnic. Carrying 100 watermelons is tough enough, but intricately placing them is even harder. Adding to the fun is the excessive heat, which Bopper eloquently describes as “hotter than new love.” Kerry takes a shot with “hot like Mississippi mud”, but she can’t compete with the Kentucky wordsmith.
The one team that shines is Art and JJ, who roll through the challenges and grab the top spot. They may be overly confident, but the border patrol agents back it up with excellent racing. They’ve remained at the top of the pack throughout this season and have become a favorite to reach the end. On the other hand, Dave and Rachel crash to Earth after taking the first two legs. The watermelon challenge induces serious bickering, and they fall into sixth place. They only escape the Detour by using the Express Pass, and that move keeps them alive in the end. Even stringing the harp is surprisingly difficult, and it’s the major reason for Elliot and Andrew’s demise. This Detour would be enough to produce a rough leg, but the Roadblock is equally demanding. It involves doing a “bottle dance” and balancing a large glass bottle on the player’s head while completing a series of moves. The final maneuver involves lying on the ground, which leads to plenty of broken glass. An added twist is a two-hour penalty if players run out of bottles, and Dave quickly takes that prize and reveals major cracks in their front-running status.
There are so many reasons to love this exciting leg. It starts with a bit of airport drama and never lets up until the final minute. The design is excellent and gives everyone a chance to do well, even after the teams are separated. The standings don’t come down to cab drivers or bad luck. Making the challenges lengthy and complicated places the emphasis in the right place. Generally, the hardest legs end up being non-eliminations, which minimizes the importance of the frustrating tasks. Placing the Roadblock within walking distance of the Pit Stop doesn’t allow random chance to play a role. This brings Ralph and Vanessa into direct competition with the twins for the final spot. Both have a chance to stay alive, and the big guy’s deft moves save the dating divorcees. A little luck doesn’t hurt, but the leg’s sharp design creates the possibility for the last-minute battle.
Beyond the border patrol agents, it’s not entirely clear which teams are the true contenders for the top prize. Steady players like Nary and Jamie and Kerry and Stacey could surprise if they continue to communicate well. A new dark horse is Danny and Joey, who are the only other team to breeze through the watermelons. They finish in third place and are starting to thrive after narrowly escaping in the premiere. The Big Brother team isn’t winning many friends, but they take second and will survive if Rachel avoids an ill-timed meltdown. Mark and Bopper remain the most entertaining team and are also doing well. Mark seems adept at a variety of challenges, and his buddy’s enthusiasm doesn’t hurt their cause. They’re one of many reasons why this season of The Amazing Race could be its best in a long time.