‘The Amazing Race’ Shake Up! Phil Keoghan On A Series First

Amazing Race's Phil Keoghan Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS ©2015 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

It’s the 29th season of The Amazing Race and host Phil Keoghan believes the show is more relevant than ever. “We’ve always prided ourselves in having a very diverse cast — black and white, Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, fit and unfit. We’ve always been a celebration of diversity, which to me is what America is.”

So in a series first, The Amazing Race moves away from lifelong friendships and familial bonds and compiles teams by matching single contestants with complete strangers. “We decided that we would bring 22 complete strangers to the starting line. And then, literally pair them up at the starting line,” Keoghan says. “We’re at a point in history where we really better figure out how to be accepting of difference and be accepting of people who are different from us. And so, that’s pretty much what happens on this race. … They have to find a way to get along, if the common goal is to win the million dollars.”

The series returns to CBS on Thursday, March 30 at 10/9c. Here Keoghan shares his insights on the new season, the unusual pairings and some fun fan experiences he’s had along the way.

The starting line will be the actual first time the racers get to see who they are partnered with …
“They’ve had no words, they’ve had no sit-down interviews or even first impressions before they get to the starting line. Because we kept them separated right up to the starting line. And certainly, as they’re walking in they saw each other, but once they got to the start line, that’s really the first time that they had a chance to look at each other. And even then, it wasn’t like a free for all, where they could just start talking to each other. We waited until they were paired up before they actually had their first conversation. And the audience gets to live that with them at the starting line. And so, we came up with a really interesting way of pairing them up, which I’ll leave for the surprise of the show.”

Amazing Race's Phil Keoghan
Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS ©2015 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

The honeymoon — you know that joyful period where racers are super nice as they get to know each other — is going to be short lived …
“There was a certain, sort of, honeymoon period where everybody was, I don’t want to say, “on their best behavior,” but they felt the need to be a little more polite. But then, within a few legs, everything changes. Because now, it’s sort of like, ‘OK, I respect that you think the way you think, but you’ve gotta respect the way I think. And if we’re going to make this work, then there has to be some compromise here.’ And so, it was about leg three where things got real.”

The race begins in Los Angeles …
They’re going to begin in Los Angeles. Their first destination is going to be Panama City. And then, they’re going to get to some pretty extraordinary places along the way. There are some really heartfelt challenges where they’re delivering some school supplies to some kids in Tanzania, all the way to skydiving in Norway and heading through these amazing canals in Vietnam.”


Some things Phil never leaves home without before going on the race …
I’ve had a Moleskine diary since I first left school, when I first started in television in 1986, because I love writing things down, names of books that people recommend. I do a lot of sketches of cool things, if I see things. I love traveling with a camera. Definitely sunglasses are a key. I love having an eye mask and earplugs, so I can sleep anywhere. I also have a little travel pillow. And of course, you’ve got to have a passport, and you got to have cash and sunblock.”

His most recent fan encounters …
The other day, I had a really tight connection and I was running in the airport to get to another terminal. This family stopped me and said, ‘Do you mind if we get a photo?’ And I always remember — now I’m certainly not comparing myself to Paul Newman — but Paul Newman said that when he would meet people, he would always try to think that that may be the only time in life that they ever meet him. So, make sure you take the time. So I stop, I take the photograph. Then, around the corner, another family stops me and they take a photograph. … I’m almost to my gate, and this woman stops me, and she says, ‘Can I get a photo?’ and I said, ‘Sure.’ So, I stopped and I put my arm around her. She looks at me like, ‘What the hell are you doing with your arm around me?’ and she goes, ‘I just want you to take a photograph of my family.’ She had no idea who I was.”

Phil’s next project is the documentary “Le Ride,” which he just screened at South By Southwest and that he’s taking on a tour screening at theaters around the country …
It’s called Le Ride. I love stories about underdogs. I found this book and it was about the first English-speaking team to ride in the Tour de France in 1928. And it turned out that one of the riders was from New Zealand [where Keoghan is from] and three riders were from Australia and nobody knew the story. And this guy, the New Zealander, was a seven-time New Zealand champion, and nobody knew who he was.

I thought this is terrible. He went to the Tour de France, was the first English speaking team — 168 people started, only 41 finished and he was one of them. How come nobody knows this story? They’re all gone, these riders. So after 5 years of solid work, in the end, to finish the film, what I ended up doing was, I found a 1928 bike. And a friend and I, my friend also found a 1928 bike. We restored it as best we could and we rode the 1928 Tour de France, every mile, every hill, every town — tried to retrace it, and we juxtaposed 2013 with a 1928 story.