Phil Keoghan, producer and host of CBS’s The Amazing Race, talks about what it takes to mount the series and why it’s more important now than ever.
Tomorrow night marks the season finale of the reality-competion series The Amazing Race. Now in its 29th season, CBS’s reality show powerhouse gears up for another run at the Primetime Emmy® Award for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program. It received this award 10 times out of 14 nominations. Given the positive fan reaction to Season 29, another run feels near certain. The Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan is himself in the running for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program. He received four nominations for the award that recently embraced such left-field choices as Jane Lynch (Hollywood Game Night) and RuPaul Charles (RuPaul’s Drag Race).
But put all that awards attention aside. Phil Keoghan and team never actually conceived that The Amazing Race would see a Season 29.
“I didn’t even know that shows could run this long. Even now, when you look back at all the popular culture series, the iconic series from our past like Star Trek or M.A.S.H. or Friends, some of those ran a lot less than you would have imagined and still became iconic shows or part of the zeitgeist,” Keoghan commented. “The fact that we have gone as long as we have and that as many people have connected with the show… When people say The Amazing Race, they immediately think of travel or adventure. We’ve become a brand.”
Keoghan and team still feel amazed (pun fully intended) that The Amazing Race adopted such brand-name recognition. The series developed into a travel state of mind or a popular theme for birthday parties. It evolved far beyond what Keoghan originally imagined when he kicked off his first race back in 2001.
A Producer / Host’s Job Is Never Done
Phil Keoghan’s duties as host of The Amazing Race do not start and stop as contestants hit their pit stop. He actually shares producing credit for the series, and as such, he participates in almost every aspect of the show.
“My involvement as a producer starts with researching and writing scripts and then continuing to write on the road. That part is something I really love because it’s how we communicate and condense those 45 minutes down to the audience. What do we say about Venice, Italy? How do we heighten the adventure that we’re sharing with the audience,” Keoghan explains. “I like wearing different hats beyond being a host. It helps me do a better job as a host.”
Along with writing responsibilities, Keoghan further molds the shape and content of the show by advising on cast selection. A reality show rises and sinks based on the proper blend and vitality of its cast. With cast selections made, scripts written, and episodes filmed and edited, Keoghan then dedicates time to marketing and promoting the series as it airs. His role exists as one component of an entire team dedicated to excellence for the entire series.
“The fact that I’m able to cover all elements in some capacity is something that I’m very proud of. I don’t just walk in and get handed a script to throw my lines at the camera,” Keoghan said. “I feel so lucky to be a component of such a strong team.”
The Pit Stop Balancing Act
Phil Keoghan receives one question above all else.
“What do you do while you’re waiting for people to reach the pit stops?”
Since the show airs weekly, the audience largely perceives the action to be spaced out much farther than it really is. Filmed over approximately 21 days, literally no one experiences down time. As contestants arrive at the pit stop, Keoghan immediately interviews them based on information relayed to him via mobile. In most instances, the audience sees much more of the race than Keoghan himself.
“I’m really hoping that the last team to arrive on one leg gets in with enough time for me to get ahead of the first team who starts on the next leg. Then, when I get to the next leg, I’m trying to stay ahead of that first team to explain all the challenges, so I go to detours and roadblocks and challenges that they’re getting to and then try to get to the next pit stop before the first team arrives. That gets complicated if there’s a fast forward where a team doesn’t have to go to some of the challenges. Then, sometimes, I’ll go to the mat, welcome the arriving team, and then backtrack to a challenge to film stuff to cover the explanations and then try to get back to the pit stop before the second team arrives. While all of this is going on, I’m getting text updates and writing story notes so that I know what to interview them about. I need to stay as informed as possible.”
I’m exhausted just writing it. Can’t imagine living it.
The Key To Success And An Important Message For the World
The Amazing Race remains fresh thanks to its ability to cast unique and largely charismatic contestants. Season 29 offered a particularly unique spin. All 22 contestants entered the race as total strangers. That’s right. To run the race, people travel the world and compete in challenges typically relying heavily on teamwork. This season, they competed with complete strangers. That shift made for compelling television.
“Now, you’re taking 22 individuals who aren’t connected in any way, and the diversity almost doubles. We looked not for pairs but for individuals. As a result, we had the most diverse cast ever this season, and I would also venture to say that there is no reality show as diverse as The Amazing Race. They don’t have anything in common. They’re pretty much as diverse as you can get. That, to me, is what makes Amazing Race work.”
With such diversity under its belt, the show throws together contestants of extraordinarily different backgrounds. Yet, one team obviously manages to overcome those differences to emerge victorious in the end. That setting aside of differences and (mostly) working together in harmony becomes an important message for audiences across the world. The Amazing Race highlights the need to embrace our differences as the world remains polarized thanks to terrorism or international politics. It illustrates the benefit in embracing other cultures. It urges viewers to reach across the oceans and learn from different perspectives.
“We are a positive show. We are a show that celebrates the best that the world has to offer, and quite frankly right now, I think Amazing Race is more relevant in 2017 than when we started. If ever there was a time for us to travel, to reach out to the world, to be accepting of diversity, to celebrate what’s right in the world as opposed to what’s wrong, it’s 2017,” Keoghan commented. “I feel like we run the risk of becoming very polarized if we continue to perpetuate the idea that anything outside of America is bad and wrong. We are the show that tries to celebrate what’s right in the world and why you should travel. We must continue to connect with our fellow human beings on this planet.”
The Amazing Race Season 29 finale airs Thursday, June 1, at 10pm ET on CBS.