Essential workers. Everyday heroes. Whatever they’re called, the COVID-19 pandemic has given Americans a new appreciation for the backbone of the workforce — the farmers, skilled laborers and tradespeople, delivery drivers, construction workers, mechanics and first responders who are keeping the country running during a crisis.
But even before a virus made us reappraise the value of an occupation, The Amazing Race’s Phil Keoghan was working on a TV show that would showcase the talents, toughness and intellect of blue-collar workers. Keoghan is host and executive producer of the 10-episode series Tough as Nails (Wednesdays at 8pm ET/PT beginning July 8), which puts 12 essential workers to the test in real work challenges for a chance to win cash and the title of Tough as Nails champion.
“The show is to honor working-class people like my relatives,” Keoghan says, noting how the time he spent with his mechanically adroit granddad demonstrated to him the wondrous work that can be accomplished with human hands and ingenuity. “I take pride in the fact that I come from working-class people, and quite frankly, if it wasn’t for those people doing what they do, we wouldn’t have a country that functions.”
In the Tough as Nails format, the competitors take on real-world job challenges, such as lugging firehoses in full firefighter gear and hammering spikes into railroad ties. There are two competitions running simultaneously throughout the series: Contestants vie as individuals to be crowned the ultimate Tough as Nails champion, and they also compete in team challenges. “Even if somebody gets cut from the individual competition and they’re out of contention for the overall prize, they do not go home,” Keoghan says. “They stay and they continue to compete in a team competition.”
And there are no losers. “These are people who live paycheck to paycheck who work extremely hard,” Keoghan says. “The idea that we would ask them to take time off work to come and be part of the show, and that they would then be putting in all this effort and walk home empty-handed, just didn’t sit right.”
As for The Amazing Race, Season 32 was originally scheduled to premiere in May, but it will now debut this fall to fill a potential content void as production on other CBS shows is in limbo. Keoghan was shooting Season 33 when production was halted, and things were still too unpredictable for him to say when it might resume. While he wishes in hindsight that they could’ve started filming Season 33 earlier, he says, “The fact that we are in this very lucky situation of being able to cut together Tough as Nails is extremely fortuitous.”
And Tough as Nails might be the right show at the right time for people in need of uplifting entertainment.