Undercover detectives, lawyers, cowboys, "Big Brother" participants, a YouTube sensation, parents, siblings and a model or two is what viewers will find amongst the contestants during the 16th cycle of the Emmy-winning "The Amazing Race," which kicks off this Sunday on CBS. With nearly 40,000 miles to cover in this season's race, teams (and viewers) will head to Chile for their first destination and it's just the start for the prize to win a million dollars. To get the scoop on how host Phil Keoghan remembers details of the past 15 seasons, why people do the race and his thoughts on losing the Best Realty Host Emmy to Jeff Probst, our Jim Halterman chatted one-on-one with Keoghan earlier this week.
Jim Halterman: You've been doing this for so long, do the past seasons blend together for you or are they actually pretty distinct?
Phil Keoghan: There are times when you really have to think about what you did what season and who was on what season but when you really think about it, they are all really distinctive. Once I start to think about the particular season it all comes back. One of the challenging things for me is that I've been doing a lot of international press last week and I was asked to speak about season 14 and so I had to actually go back and look at the team photographs and just refresh myself with exactly what happened and then, of course, I can't talk about the story points of what's happened because people haven't seen the show yet. I have to take myself back and that's always interesting. We have done a lot of shows.
JH: Caite Upton was a big national joke in 2007 for her not-so-sharp answers during the Miss Teen USA pageant but, using her as an example, do a lot of people join the race because they have something to prove?
PK: Yeah, there's no doubt that many people come on to the show because they have something to prove whether it's to themselves because they want to prove that they can do things like facing the fear of heights or just pushing themselves. Caite is definitely on this show to prove that her response to a question in that pageant is not a true reflection of who she is. You'll have to be a judge as a viewer as to whether you think she has redeemed herself.
JH: I actually felt a little sorry for her on the show when people were making fun of her right in front of her.
PK: She would have known that was going to happen. If she's there to prove that she isn't the way that people perceive her then you know it's not going to happen instantly. People aren't going to ignore it. That's why she's on the race because she wanted to address it. She had to come to expect that people are definitely going to hone in on that because that's the way they know her now.
JH: There seems to always be a gay contestant on the show. Has that become a requirement?
PK: No, it's not a requirement. We interview about 20-25 teams in person and then once all teams have gone through we lay out all their cards on the table and talk about a balance or a mix. It's not a prerequisite but inherently in the mix the chances of one of those 25 teams, which is 50 people, being gay is going to be pretty high. They're a part of society and obviously some of them are an interesting part of society so I think it just happens. It's not like we say we have to have a gay couple or a particular group. We still want a mix. We want people to be represented but it's not a prerequisite to have one or the other.
JH: The show is still so popular. Is it the contestants' personalities? The challenges? Seeing the world? Or is it just you, Phil?
PK: It's not me. It's definitely a combination of all those things that you just mentioned. What I hear from people a lot is 'we love visiting new places.' The places themselves are definitely a star factor on the show. People want to see new things in different places because they vicariously travel with the show. As a population, Americans are not that well traveled internationally. We travel a lot domestically but a very small percentage of them actually own passports compared to other Western countries. That's just a fact. I think it's something like 6% of Americans have active passports. We're not well traveled compared to the Germans, who I believe are the most well traveled population in the world. I think for the viewers, it's a way to look outside of America and maybe be surprised and see things that they don't normally see in the same light. When you see the rest of the world on television, generally it's in the news and there's something going wrong. We are a prime time show that is showing the rest of the world in a totally different light where it's people fishing, people preparing food or trying to make a living in some interesting way like collecting salt in Africa. We're able to shed a little positive light on the rest of the world in prime time to a bigger audience than other television is able to do because of the context and tone that our show is.
JH: Jeff Probst has won the Best Host Emmy the last two years so maybe it's your turn now. What do we have to do to make that happen?
PK: How much money do you have? [Laughs.] That's very nice of you. The same people that voted for him voted for our show to be the best show so I have no complaints and I've been lucky enough to have been a part of being on "The Amazing Race" as a producer and a host. I'm certainly not feeling like I'm missing out.
JH: How was the experience riding your bike across America last year?
PK: Life changing. I've been reliving it with the documentary I'm cutting right now. We're almost finished with it. We shot the whole thing in HD and probably a year after we set out [on the ride] we should have this thing finished and our goal is to get it out there and even raise more awareness and money for MS.
JH: Will it air on CBS or show in theaters?
PK: I don't know. We decided to self-fund it so we didn't have to make it for anybody else in terms of what we did with it creatively. If you make a show for someone specifically and they're putting up the money then obviously they want it cut a certain way and tell the story a certain way so we decided that we'd cut the story the best way that we could and the way that we thought would work best and then we'll try to find a home.
JH: Outside hosting the show, you've accomplished so much in your life. Do you still have a lot on your bucket list?
PK: Oh yeah. The idea is that you die with the list. When they finally say goodbye you should have a list that's incomplete because theoretically you're living every day with wanting to do more.
JH: Have you seen MTV's "The Buried Life where you see young guys doing a bucket list and helping people?
PK: I think it's great especially with young people being inspired to want to do things. They're the toughest people to get to with this philosophy. I've heard a number of people mention it to me and that it has the same set of philosophy as NOW (No Opportunity Wasted) and I see that as a good thing. I haven't seen the show but hopefully it's done in a good way but the underlying philosophy of it sounds really cool. I encourage that and I think it's a good thing.
The 16th season of "The Amazing Race" begins this Sunday at 8:00/7:00c on CBS.