Phil Keoghan has hosted every season of “The Amazing Race” since it began in 2001, including the most recently concluded 31st season, also known as the reality showdown. The season pitted past “Amazing Race” contestants against favorites from “Survivor” and “Big Brother.”
Keoghan spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Joyce Eng a few weeks ago in the midst of Season 31 about the concept of a reality showdown, the surprising evolution of Colin and Christie and what to expect from future seasons of “The Amazing Race.” Watch the exclusive video interview above and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby: Phil, last time we talked was a year ago and you were about to leave to film Season 31 and you would neither confirm nor deny that it was a reality showdown between “Race,” “Survivor,” and “Big Brother” teams which a lot of fans had suggested for a while. What made you guys pull the trigger on that concept?
Phil Keoghan: As you said, the fans were the ones that suggested it originally and I was a little skeptical about it, to be honest with you, in the beginning, because I’ve always had a preference for races that have people who have never been on the show before. We do have a big portion of our fans who prefer that approach with “Race.” They like racers who have never been on the show but you’re never gonna make everybody happy. You’re never gonna get a total consensus. Case in point, what’s going on in our country politically right now. Everybody should have their say and I have to say that having gone out and shot it and now you will have seen, we’ve had eight episodes now of this season and it’s been amazing. It’s been fantastic. A lot of people who weren’t into this idea have enjoyed it. People who maybe love to hate some of the teams as well have enjoyed the entertainment factor. Then, last week with this U-Turn vote, that was interesting, wasn’t it?
GD: A lot of stuff has gone down this season especially at the mat.
PK: Yeah, a lot of stuff, a lot of drama. I feel bad that sometimes fans will rip into contestants like with Rachel and her sister. Some people have said some nasty things and I just think, “You know what, until you’ve been out there and you’ve experienced what it’s like to be out on the race, just take a chill pill.” They’ve made for some great TV and there’s one thing that you can’t deny and that’s that they bring a tremendous amount of spirit and entertainment factor to the show. Cut people some slack and enjoy it. As I always say, it’s easy to critique but it’s hard to put yourself out there the way any of the teams do and be under a microscope for as long as they are under a microscope and to be sleep-deprived and under tremendous stress. Just enjoy it. Don’t get so rattled about some of these people and whether you like them or not.
GD: I love the Reilly sisters. They’re just great TV in general. I don’t think what they were trying to do with Nicole and Victor was necessarily wrong, it was just very confusing and they didn’t expect their reaction.
PK: Exactly, and you can just see from Nicole’s reaction how heightened the emotions are when they get to the mat. Part of my job is to solicit a conversation. That’s what I’m there to do. You have to remember, too, I don’t know what’s gone down in that moment. I don’t know what’s gone down between those teams. I haven’t seen it. The audience has seen what I haven’t seen in that moment, if that makes sense. In that moment, I haven’t been on the course to see what happened but what happened was shown to the audience. So it’s up to me now to go dig into what happened. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t facilitate a conversation. To be honest with you, I had no idea that there were so many deep-seated emotions. Obviously, Nicole got extremely upset and there was a lot of misunderstanding there but this happens. When you put that many competitive people in a race around the world, you’re gonna get the sparks like that. This season has had plenty of them.
GD: Were there any “Race” teams that you really wanted to come back this season? How did that casting go when you were picking alums?
PK: We really looked at who the fans talked about the most. There’s always teams that for one reason or another aren’t available or can’t come back but the teams that we had come back are teams that fans talk about, that the fans love. I did an interview with Leo and Jamal on my “BUCKiT with Phil Keoghan” podcast. I think it was quite insightful for people who maybe misunderstood who Leo and Jamal were. They call themselves affectionately the Afghanimals and one of the reasons that we love the diversity that we have on our cast is that we’re able to shed new light on different people and I got them opening up, talking about what it was like being in America after 9/11 and being of Afghani descent and some of the ill will that was projected their way. Then you find out that Jamal served his country, served the American military and you get a new appreciation for who they are. People who maybe didn’t fully understand the Afghanimals got to know them even more this season and that’s part of the reason I wanted to sit down with them. There’s so much depth to a lot of these teams that we don’t have enough time to get to every season because the show’s going so fast. It was nice to be able to spend some time with them and really talk to them. That’s my favorite thing on the whole show is the time that I have with them on the mat.
GD: I think everyone was shocked at how completely different the new and improved Colin and Christie are. I’m not gonna lie, after the premiere I rewatched Season 5, which I haven’t seen since it aired 15 years ago, just to see the full spectrum of Colin and Christie. What was your reaction when you saw how they’ve grown and they’re these totally chill, low-key parents now?
PK: It’s funny you should say spectrum like light spectrum, crystal spectrum, all that sort of stuff. Yeah, total shock. They are different people. It does go to show you that people do change and who would’ve guessed that Colin yelling “My ox is broken” would ever be the guy talking about centering himself and being in the moment and being present? Not in a million years did I see that transformation but it worked for them. They’ve been consistent racers from the beginning. Having kids and then working on their relationship has got them to a good place. I think what you just said is great for fans who have not seen Colin and Christie on Season 5 to go back and look at who they were in Season 5. It’s like yin and yang. It’s like Jekyll and Hyde.
GD: And now, a nail falls on his head, he’s bleeding, he doesn’t care.
PK: I would suggest for people who haven’t seen Season 5, if you wanna see a different Colin and Christie go back and look at what can happen with a little patience and meditation. Sometimes being spiritual can be good for people.
GD: It seemed like when the race started, the “Survivor” and “Big Brother” teams wanted to prove they’re better and they can do this but as the race has gone on, they’ve realized it’s harder than they thought it was and I’ve talked to some of the teams and they’ve said so themselves. It’s just so different and nothing they did on “Survivor” or “Big Brother” can really prepare them for it. They have comps but it’s under totally different circumstances there. Did you get a sense of that when you talked to them at the mat?
PK: I’ve said it to you before in interviews, the first thing I ever hear from everybody, regardless of whether they’ve been on the show before or not, whether they’ve been on another reality show or not, the very first thing I hear at the end of the first leg is, “Oh my god, this is so much harder than I thought.” To see somebody like Rupert standing at the mat and to hear him say this, it did humble some of them. It did open up their eyes. It is such a different game to play when you’re on “Survivor” and “Big Brother.” I’m sure both of those challenges have their own difficulties. Being out in the world is just so different from being on an island or being in a house. There’s just so many other factors that you do not have to deal with. If you think of “Survivor,” it’s obviously a bigger version of “Big Brother” but it’s a closed set. You shut the outside world off and you’re playing a lot of mind games with people in a confined space. On “Amazing Race,” you’re playing mind games and then you’re dealing with people in everyday life and you’re stretched out over thousands of miles and you don’t see your competition a lot of the time. It’s a totally different dynamic. I just don’t think they knew what was coming. The only advantage that the racers have is that they had experienced that, they know what it’s like in terms of the mental part of it. As far as having an advantage from a physical standpoint, there was no reason that the “Big Brother” teams or the “Survivor” teams couldn’t compete in the physical challenges.
GD: It’s getting used to the pace of the show ‘cause you’re always on the go.
PK: One of the things that the “Survivor” and “Big Brother” contestants said was that they had more downtime on the other shows. There were large periods of time where they would chew the fat, so to speak, and talk about the day. On “Race,” there really isn’t that downtime. I’ve said it to you many times before, you shoot 12 shows in 21 days, you’re traveling upwards of 50,000 miles, you’re looping around the world, you’re jet-lagged, you’re eating weird foods and going to different places. There is no experience like this so even savvy “Big Brother” and “Survivor” contestants, to shock them and make them sit back and go, “Whoa, what just happened,” it does speak to how challenging the race is.
GD: We’re recording this before Leg 9 has aired but so far, “Race” teams have won every single leg. Did you expect this kind of domination from them?
PK: No, I didn’t. I really thought some of the other teams…
GD: They’ve been close, Nicole and Victor, Chris and Bret.
PK: I did expect some of the other teams to win legs earlier on. So yeah, it’s been a little surprising to me but let’s not also forget that the “Race” teams are also incredibly strong teams. When they were on in their seasons, Colin and Christie, Tyler and Korey, Rachel, of course, very strong teams that were the best of the best when they were on against other Amazing Racers. The competition is fierce. That said, we had a lot of confidence from Chris and Bret and from Rupert and the other teams at the starting line. They were very confident. Right up to the end of the first leg, I think they all kind of went, “Whoa.” They were all confident they were gonna take this out.
GD: They’ve been close. I’m just waiting for one of them to end that streak but it hasn’t happened yet.
PK: You just don’t know what happens.
GD: Like you mentioned before, the new twist this year was the U-Turn vote which has been on international versions of the show so why did you guys decide to bring this in now?
PK: I think one of the reasons was that it was a playing element that “Survivor” and “Big Brother” contestants were familiar with, the idea of having a vote against your competitors. “Amazing Race” has never really gone down that road before. Apart from the U-Turn in general, you’re not forced to use it in general. It’s there as a tool to use if you feel like you need it. We just thought to increase the tension and increase the stakes that it would be a good idea to force them to have to make a choice. “You guys are all talking a big talk about what you would do to win this race and how you could win this race.” We wanted to force them into a situation where we called them out and said, “Okay, what are you gonna do?” It just seemed appropriate that in a place like Switzerland where everybody gets a vote that it was a good place to do it. It seemed fitting. It shocked a lot of fans. Online I got some interesting responses from people that were like, “Whoa, what just happened?”
GD: I liked it but I felt like they should’ve written down who they wanted to vote to get U-Turned and then you could’ve read them out loud ‘cause I felt like Rachel and Elissa got screwed by going first. I don’t know if Colin and Christie would’ve voted for them if Rachel and Elissa hadn’t picked them already.
PK: Yeah, I think that would probably have felt a little bit like “Survivor” and more like something that had been done before. The order was random, who went first. We just drew those names out. We just did it our way. I don’t know if anything is fair in love and war. It was just the way that we did it. Look what happened with Colin and Christie with the double U-Turn.
GD: They are 15 years older but they literally haven’t lost a step. They’re so fast.
PK: Right. They just decided, “Okay, we’re just gonna deal with it.”
GD: This season almost wasn’t Emmy eligible because it was originally scheduled to premiere on May 22nd, which is just nine days from the cutoff but then it was moved to April 17th so now you guys are eligible. Was that ever a concern for you guys, possibly missing the Emmy cycle for the first time? What was your reaction when you got word that the show was premiering earlier?
PK: I don’t know if it was a concern but it didn’t feel good that we weren’t gonna be eligible because we pride ourselves in being nominated. We’ve been lucky enough to win but just being nominated is a huge honor and I’m not just saying that. It is something that we take very seriously. The idea that we were gonna miss out by a few days because of scheduling, we were heartbroken by that. Then when we found out we got moved up, that comes with its own challenges because suddenly the lead time is less than we wanted. We’d already put out a date about when we were gonna be going on so we had to rally very quickly to get the word out. It took a while for fans to catch up to the fact that we were on. Thank god we live in an era now where people can go back and catch up and a lot of people had to because they didn’t know. CBS tried some other programming and as you know, it’s so incredibly difficult to get anything new and different to work on TV so you’ve gotta give them credit for trying something new and different. They also know that when they put “Amazing Race” on it’s gonna perform and it’s been solid. Here were are 18, 19 years later and the show is rock-solid. It feels good to know that fans still want the show and as I said to somebody in a tweet yesterday, as long as you want the show, we’ll keep making the show ‘cause we wanna keep making it for you.
GD: You guys are submitting the sixth episode in Uganda so why did you guys pick that one?
PK: You saw it. There was just so many elements to it. It was so colorful. We got an incredible reaction from fans about that episode. There was so much drama. It was different. We’d never been there before. We love going to new and different places and it just looked exotic. I love challenges that are inherent.
GD: We found out what a Rolex is there.
PK: Yeah, I love that whole thing. “Go get a Rolex in the market.” “Oh, really? Okay.” It just felt like the right one and it was nicely cut together. It had all the elements that we love in an “Amazing Race.” How many shows are set in a place like Uganda? Again, it’s just such a foreign concept to even the “Big Brother” and “Survivor” teams for them to be suddenly in Uganda and then they’re flying to Europe and they’re going to Switzerland. That contrast is such a wonderful thing that in one episode you could be thousands of miles apart and teams are exposed to such cultural contrast.
GD: I know Season 32 has already been filmed so what can you tease about that?
PK: Season 32 we’re wanting to get back to a lot of the core elements of “Race.” Having come off this season, which is where we pulled in people from various seasons of different shows, we went back to basics on 32 and a really dynamic cast. All the things, to me, that make the show work. Everybody always says, “What’s new and different?” But at the end of the day, honestly, fans like what’s the same. They like the fact that there are certain things they can expect from the show and they wanna see those things again and again. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you look at shows that have incredible longevity, they’re the ones that keep giving fans who love the show what they want. I don’t think we always have to be changing the core concept of what “Race” is all about. It’s so good at a fundamental level. Why mess with something that everybody loves? Yeah, we can try new and different things here and there but at the end of the day, we can’t forget what the show…
GD: The foundation is still the same.
PK: Yeah. I would say that that’s what the focus was with 32. Of course, with a few surprises along the way but at its core, back to why everybody fell in love with “Amazing Race” in the first place.
GD: Any word on Season 33 yet?
PK: No word but my gut tells me that because the show has performed really well and with the strength of Season 32, which we’re wrapping up right now in post-production, just knowing the strength of what’s to come I feel pretty confident that they’re going to see the show has a lot of legs left.
GD: No pun intended.
PK: No pun intended. I think it deserves to come back. Fingers crossed it will. I think there’s still a lot more we can do with “The Amazing Race.”
GD: A lot more places to go.
PK: A lot more places. We’re gonna be rolling over shortly a million miles on “Amazing Race,” a million miles traveled. That’ll happen in Season 32 that we’ll roll over a million miles, visiting over 100 countries. When you think about that, that’s pretty extraordinary. That’s a lot of miles. That’s a lot of teams, hundreds of teams, and a lot of challenges. We still have a lot more to do.
GD: You have to go to two million now.
GD: It was great speaking with you as usual, thank you so much and best of luck to you and the show at the Emmys.
PK: Thank you for continuing to support the show and I promise you a wonderful finish to this race, dramatic and exciting.