While the fourteenth season of any series is usually time that last rites are being administered, CBS's "The Amazing Race" marches into Season 14 with a renewed vigor and freshness, according to longtime host Phil Keoghan. Speaking from Los Angeles, Keoghan spoke of the endurance of the competition series, how the contestants are chosen and what brings him the most joy in his host role.
Keoghan said that conscious efforts have been made this season to keep the show from growing stale. "The network really wanted to freshen everything up including the graphics and the music; all the dressing elements of the show. And that now with all the other stuff that we've always been able to keep fresh, I think it's given us something that's a premiere show like Season One out of the gate; that's how fresh it looks to me."
"The Amazing Race" has been a groundbreaking show in that it has regularly brought an eclectic group of people to each season's casts. "I've gotta tell you," Keoghan said, "to CBS's credit, they have consistently made quite radical choices with casting [but] the final say goes to Les Moonves and he has an unbelievable eye for talent and knowing what's going to work on TV." Case in point, Keoghan explained that one of the teams in the new season (Margie and Luke) is a mother and her deaf son, who doesn't read lips and will rely completely on his mother to communicate. "It would've been an easy one to shy away from them. Most people would say 'we don't want to get into too extreme a choice. It's going to be too hard for them.' But we've had an amputee, we've had a short person, we've had gay, straight, tall, short. We've had such extremes with the casting that I love being a part of it because I love that we don't shy away from any combination that works." Other contestants this season include a gay father and son, sibling lawyers and shapely blonde flight attendants, who say in the season premiere that they are ready to use their looks to get them far in the game.
While challenges may get bigger and scarier every season (in Sunday's episode, racers bungee jump off the second highest point in the world) Keoghan said there's another aspect of the challenges that appeal to him. "It's about immersing people in some aspect of culture in that place. Those to me are my favorite challenges. Milking a camel or this cheese challenge [where contestants have to carry 200 lbs of cheese down a slippery hill], which was such a huge effort. You kind of throw people something that is inherently part of the culture there... [for example,] they're in Cambodia and they have to go fishing and they have to do it the way people in Cambodia do it."
In terms of the show's popularity, Keoghan shared, "I feel like 'The Amazing Race' is kind of at a tipping point. Before, people would say 'you're that guy from that great race.' They sort of knew the face, knew the show, they'd heard about it but it hadn't gotten to that tipping point where it becomes a part of people's vernacular where it was mainstream or where it was a recognizable show to just about anyone on the street. Now, people get the name right, people have seen it, people say, 'Oh, I know that show, The Amazing Race. I love this team or I love that team.' But the thing I consistently hear from people is we just love it when you just show us the world."
The fact that the race itself literally goes around the world, Keoghan initially wanted to convey the grand scope of that fact at the starting line of the race. He revealed that at the beginning of the series, "I wanted a line that sort of encapsulated what was awaiting the teams and what was awaiting the viewers and I came up with this line. I felt like I needed something to set up the premise. I came up with this line, 'The world is waiting for you.'"
Keoghan added that it's the world that is truly the biggest appeal of the series. "Yes, we have a great show, yes, we have a great cast but what people really love about the show, one of the big pulls or draws of the show is that we're the show that is part of the world and we'll show them the world in a way that they just don't get to see anywhere else in mainstream media."
Another popular draw of the show is the testing that the various relationships go through in the course of the race. To hear Keoghan describe it, it's not just the already weak relationships that are subject to the pressures of the race. "I don't know if even some of the strongest relationships aren't going to be tested somehow during the whole journey because it is very stressful. It's hard enough to take a family trip on the weekend and go away for a camping trip. In a perfect relationship there's still going to be some tension but now you've upped the ante and you put a million dollars out there and you've got other people racing to get there before you... you really create a lot of tension, a lot of energy there that manifests itself and teams really testing their relationship."
Keoghan, who is also an author of the book "No Opportunity Wasted: Creating A List For Life," clearly finds much joy in helping people make the most out of their lives. "It's uplifting. It's invigorating. It makes people want to get out there and do things. There's something very cool about working on a show this long and being a part of something that has that kind of energy." The host also said that he's heard first hand from past contestants how the race has impacted their lives. "I stay in contact with many of the racers. They email. It's changed their lives for the better. The audience loves to see the changes that people go through and the idea that they're pushing themselves. It's a unique opportunity to work on something that actually does something positive, I think."
When asked if he ever stands on the sidelines and secretly wishes he could do the challenges that he sees play out season after season, Keoghan admitted that he's not a newbie at doing extreme challenges. "Since the age of 19, I have spent most of my career doing crazy things. I have an unofficial world record for bungee jumping where nine of us jumped off a bridge at one time. I have my reindeer skiing license, which I got in 1998... I spent three days in a nudist resort [and] I putted a golf ball across Scotland last year in four days. 107 miles. One golf club, many golf balls lost from the West coast of Scotland to the East. So I've spent my entire career doing many of the things that they do on the race."
"The Amazing Race" kicks off its latest season this Sunday at 8:00/7:00c on CBS.