As part of our Gadling on the Road series, Kent Wien and his wife Linda are participating as Team Gadling in the first run of Competitours, an Amazing Race like competition taking place in three different countries in Europe. Follow along each day this week as Kent documents their progress.
We checked into our 2 star hotel in Amsterdam at about 9 p.m. on Tuesday night after the 3-hour train ride from Cologne. There’s nothing fancy about these hotels, but it didn’t matter to us, since we were only there to sleep and to do a bit of video uploading and research the next days tasks. So when I discovered that the WiFi was free, I considered it a fine place to stay, even though it was a tad smoky.
Some of the other teams had issues with the noise from the bar or lobby and one of the eleven teams checked out and and stayed at a quieter place on their own dime.
Linda ran out to a grocery store to pick up something for us to eat while competing the next day. We found that fruit and vegetables kept us going when we couldn’t stop for a normal meal.
I managed to upload a video for Gadling and post all the events from Tuesday while Linda looked over the 15 challenges and picked the two with the highest point totals, which were located well outside of the city, in the towns of Den Haag and Leiden.
After a nice breakfast provided by the hotel we were ready to start the day’s challenges just a few minutes after the allowed starting time.
The challenges are presented to everyone usually the night before in a Google Maps format. Printed copies were also placed under each competitors hotel room door.
Clicking on each envelope opened up the task, it’s location and occasionally details on how to get there.
We traveled to an attraction called Madurodam in Den Haag, which is a 1/24th scale model of the important sights of Holland including Schiphol airport, the port of Rotterdam, famous buildings and typical villages. The challenge read: “Here’s your chance to star in your own Godzilla movie…”
We modified the task and put together the following video highlighting the tiny people of Stena, known as the “Holland Fairies.”
It was our best video yet.
We were definitely hoping for the full point value of 40 points. Even if another team had trekked out this far, we thought we had a good shot at keeping them to the lower point value of 20 points.
On the train to our next task in Leiden, we discovered the game had changed significantly.
Because of the unlimited points accrual allowed for the first three days, some teams felt they were out of the running after just a day or two, especially after seeing the results from some of the leading teams, who had been able to upload everything on time.
So Steve decided to wipe the slate clean and award the grand prize of 7 nights at a Starwood hotel and $700 to the highest point earner for the Monday to Wednesday period based on the videos they’d submitted during the first three days.
For the remaining two days, Thursday and Friday, teams would be limited to tasks with a maximum potential of 75 points, just as the Competitours website describes. Future Competitours vacations will also include this change.
Founder Steve Belkin has made a number of tweaks to the contest mid-stream to test improvements for the following teams that are competing this summer. We knew going in that this was a beta version of Competitours.
So we felt our next task, located at a health exhibit called Corpus, would be important if we were to stay in the running.
Corpus is a museum devoted to the functions of the body. Thinking, eating and digesting were all on display. We came up with the idea to make a one-minute video describing the functions necessary for a successful competitourist, with our favorite line being, “Digestion: You won’t need to worry about that, since there’ll be no time to eat.”
It turned out that we had another team competing in this task, but we never knew it. Because of a misunderstanding, they were told that no filming was allowed in the museum, so they did their video on the outside of the building.
I saw the same sign prohibiting the cameras, and realized that it only applied to the audio and video guided tour, but not the exhibits afterwards. So that meant 40 more points for us and 20 for the other team, which happened to be the father and son team of David and Alex, the team to beat by that point.
They had done a great job studying the points potential and transportation times and plotted their every move beforehand. Because days one to three allowed for an unlimited amount of tasks attempted, they handily accomplished more events than the rest of the teams. I think Mike and George, a.k.a. “Team Stimulus Package,” came up with the nickname “the machine that is Alex and David” for them.
We still had nearly three hours left in the game after the out of town challenges. So we made our way to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam to tour the home where she and her family had hidden from the Nazi occupiers. We stopped to listen to each video on display. We really took everything in, staying for over an hour.
Afterward, we felt zapped of energy. It was a heavy subject, and we tried to get our heads back into the game, but it was nearly impossible. We wandered around Amsterdam looking for some Mongolian throat singers, part of another task, but we never did see them.
So the decision was made to work our way back to the hotel with 30 minutes remaining. Along the way, we passed David and Alex, who were racing to get one last set of points racked up.
We met up with Mike and George, at the bar in our Amsterdam hotel. They were busy uploading videos, so Linda and I joined them while I also put our videos online. After an hour, the bandwidth at the hotel just shut down, so we weren’t able to finish everything.
Three hours later, Linda was starving, so we chatted with the staff at the front desk, about our dining options. Linda and I went with the recommendation from a KLM pilot who was helping out at the hotel.
The Indonesian restaurant featured a “rice table” which was a huge dish of just about everything the restaurant offered served on t
hree hot tables in front of us. Even though we were starving going in, there was no way for two people to finish this meal.
The game for the grand prize had finished that night, but it would be some time before we knew how we did. Linda was feeling overwhelmed after three days of chasing points.
For her, the lack of sleep, food and the unlimited challenges were taking their toll. She was also responsible for figuring out which tasks we’d accomplish, since I was spending the time uploading videos and writing for Gadling.
All points were wiped clean for Thursday and Friday, with a new prize of two domestic or Canadian airline tickets. Steve also gave an alternative, since free or low cost airline travel is part of the benefits for someone in the industry. He offered 5 hotel nights at a Starwood hotel as an option, which helped keep us going.
I committed to Linda that I’d be in the game with her, pushing back the updates for Gadling by a few days until the competition was over. This took some pressure off of her, and it made for a much better race.
The new Thursday and Friday contest would be run just like future Competitours, where a maximum of 75 points could be attempted, and scoring was based on how well you did against the other teams, and not as much about the number of tasks accomplished.
Eliminated also was the requirement to accomplish the challenge in an eight-hour period. This would make it much easier to stop for lunch along the way. I believe just about everyone was pleased with the new format.
In future Competitours, video uploading also won’t be an issue, since the clips will be handed to a person employed by the company to upload each night to the judges back in the states. So this will allow the contestants to enjoy the trip, and get more sleep.
The standings for the first three days will be official soon and I’ll report on the results in the next post.
Ready for a new game?
We found out at around 5 p.m. that our challenges for the next day would be in and around the city of Brussels, Belgium, after a morning train ride from Amsterdam. Stay tuned, because it’s an entirely new race and Team Gadling is determined to win!
I’ll leave you with a few last scenes from day three: