Interview: 'The Amazing Race: All-Stars' host Phil Keoghan previews the finale
"Amazing Race" host Phil Keoghan really wants to do an "Amazing Race" reunion.
I mention this, because in the two times I've talked to Keoghan in the past couple years, that is the only repeated point. "Survivor" has reunions after each season and Keoghan would like "The Amazing Race" to follow suit.
Keoghan and I got on the phone last week to discuss the upcoming conclusion to "The Amazing Race: All-Stars," a season that is heading towards its conclusion on Sunday (May 18) night with Jen & Caroline, Brendon & Rachel and Dave & Connor still in the running for the big prize.
We talked about the biggest story lines surrounding each of the remaining teams. Is Dave's quest to become the oldest "Amazing Race" winner a notable one? Are Brendon & Rachel capable of actually being underdogs? And should we be dismissive of the Country Blondes because of the amount of assistance they've gotten from other teams?
We also discussed several of the season's other running important moments and themes, including the feud between Dave & Connor and Brendon & Rachel and the short-lived mixed partnership between Mark & Mallory.
Click through for the full Q&A... [I've also got a Q&A with Jeff Probst that'll go up before Wednesday's "Cagayan" finale...]
HitFix: I'm interested and I sort of like the idea of some teams with some genuine animosity getting to the Final 3. Is that good TV in your opinion?
Phil Keoghan: Well, I like good competition and I like when there's tension and there's a will and a desire to really win. I think it's healthy; I think it's normal; I think it's what happens in real life. So sometimes... Look, I know viewers sometimes will say, "Oh, I don't like it when they get nasty at each other" or whatever, but look: we watch competition, we watch sports because there is always an adversary, there is always the underdog, there are those elements of competition that as human beings we like. And so yeah, I like when people are hungry to win and they will do whatever they can within the rules to win. I think that's healthy.
HitFix: Sort of speaking about underdogs, when you see the other teams ganging up on Brendon & Rachel, does that make you sympathetic to them as underdogs or can those two never truly be underdogs?
Phil Keoghan: I'm not really into like personal attacks. It works both ways with teams. Sometimes where we've had teams that are being alienated for whatever reason. I'm not really into the nasty personal stuff. I don't like that. But I think they have shown a lot of strength this season and just sort of done their own thing. I think they're stronger so that's helped them get through it easier. I think the last season they were on, they were a little more fragmented so I don't think they were as apt to get through it. But you've got to hand it to them, they've hung in there against a lot of adversarial decisions from some of the other teams. I'm not even sure how it all happened. They just sort of kept evolving. I don't know whether it was baggage that they came into the Race with based on what people had seen the last time they were on, but I think they've done a good job at just sort of keeping on keeping on and just continuing to race.
HitFix: Well, what is your own perspective on the sort of the scandal or controversy involving that double U-Turn and whether that's all part of the game or whether they did something wrong or why Dave & Connor were so upset, et cetera?
Phil Keoghan: Look, it's quite interesting, it's quite a polarizing topic with fans online just tweeting. I wrote a tweet last week and said, "Dave you've got to stop talking about how old you are because you're beating people out who are half your age so no more of the 'I'm too old' or 'I'm old why would they want to U-Turn me.'" I don't think that they did anything wrong. What were they meant to do? I think the U-Turn is a tool; it's a legal means within the game rules to slow down another team. And I think Dave & Connor are proven to be one of the top teams in the race and so they wanted to slow them down. So I'm not really sure – I mean if it would have been anybody else, if somebody else had slowed down another team that wasn't as popular, I don't know if there would be such a fuss, but it's there to be used. And I know that some fans... I've said that before I said "Look, you should use the tools to help keep yourself in the Race and stay ahead" and I got criticized for saying that by some fans. But I'm not really sure why you wouldn't use it if you had the opportunity to use it, if it meant that you felt that you were increasing your chances of staying in the race. Why is that bad? I'm not sure if I understand that.
HitFix: Nor am I. How much significance do you put in Dave's quest to become the oldest winner? I mean why has it been so hard, do you think, for this competition to get a winner of his age?
Phil Keoghan: Well, you're saying he won.
HitFix: Well, it's a quest. I'm just saying he's getting closer.
Phil Keoghan: Well, I mean I don't know. I'm trying to think in my stats who the oldest winner is ever or who the oldest people are to ever come through into the Final 3. If you think back to Terry & Ian, how old was he? He was 58, I think, Terry. We've had Meredith & Gretchen; he was 68. I think it really does come down to physical conditioning and the age thing is not really a factor as much as the person's physical condition and the smarts. Margie is older so I really do think that that's ultimately what it comes down to. But you have to think too, we haven't had... the older people on the race are always at the other end of the spectrum. Predominately, I don't know what the average age of the Racer is but it's probably more like 30 or something. So obviously that's always going to be sort of your sweet spot for who makes it through to the Final 3 and then ultimately who wins. Because if you think about it the Globetrotters - Flight Time is in his 40s , Big Easy is still in his 30s, Leo and Jamal are in their 30s [20s], Natalie and Nadiya are around 30 , Joey and Meghan are extremely young. So really we don't have a lot at both ends of the spectrum, super young or super old. They're all sort of in that sweet spot in the middle. So I think there's plenty of older people that could win the Race, just again it just comes down to who ultimately has a chance to win the Race.
HitFix: Well now, let's go back sort of to the beginning of this season. When you look at the teams that were assembled for this season what were your sort of expectation for what this particular group of All-Stars would deliver?
Phil Keoghan: Well, I did not see Caroline & Jennifer going as far as they did. I don't think they saw themselves going as far as they did. I did not see Natalie & Nadiya getting eliminated so early. I think Jessica & John, I was really excited about having them back on because I really feel like they have something to prove having come off their "Oy Vey" season. They had a great sense of humor about that. Probably the most dramatic start ever to any "Amazing Race" because of Bopper's medical condition and having to go to the hospital the night before and give him the news with our Race doctor there that he was unable to compete. And then Mallory coming in to take over and suddenly a new team formed as we headed out on the Race.
I thought that the Final 3 was going to be Dave & Connor, the Cowboys and Leo & Jamal. That was who I thought was actually going to get through to the Final 3. And then any number of teams I saw as being in the fourth place because the competition was so tight. Whether it was Brendon & Rachel, whether it was Flight Time & Big Easy, whether it was Jesscia & John, Margie & Luke, I mean really I just felt like those were my picks for the Top 3, but then after that, the teams, it was going to be maybe in the fourth position, I couldn't see it. And I think when you look back to Leg 2 and you think about every team arriving at the mat at one time, it speaks to just how tight this season was with competition. It was ruthless. I mean it was, the competition was brutal. I've never had all the teams at the end of the second Leg running like that. I couldn't even keep count. In the edit I made a mistake with my counting and the editors like had it in one cut and I said "Leave it in because it sort of emphasizes just how confusing it was for me to keep track." They were standing in different positions over the mat, they were split up as teams and I was trying to keep track of the numbers and I lost count, like genuinely lost count. And it was because we couldn't fit them all on the mat. That's how tight that was. And if you think about how many Legs there were where there was a footrace coming into the mat. When we were in Italy and we had the teams running across the Plaza and I was like, Quick get a shot of this," they're running, like literally running to the mat right on top of each other. It was a great season from a competitive standpoint.
HitFix: Well, I want to talk about several of those things, starting first with Mark & Mallory. How excited where you about sort of the possibility or prospect of that sort of mismatched team and then how disappointed were you by the fact that they only lasted for those two Legs?
Phil Keoghan: Well, I'm super-disappointed for Bopper. It was one of the hardest things that I've had to do on a Race, because he was really in this to win this. This was all about -- for them -- it was really about an opportunity to change their lives in a dramatic way. And so I was gutted to have to tell them that. And being on "Amazing Race" is more then winning the million dollars, it's a life changing experience. But for Bopper & Mark it was really about winning that money and changing their lives with that money. So of all the teams to have to get rid of at the beginning that was the toughest, they would be the toughest team to have to eliminate. You know, if I'd had to do it to Flight Time & Big Easy they make a good living, they travel around the world as professional sportsmen. It would've been a very different announcement. But with Bopper & Mark it was gut wrenching. It really, really was. The two guys sitting there looking at me with tears in their eyes and just completely and utterly devastated by what I had to tell them. I did love the idea that Mark was going to get a chance to run with Mallory. But I think it's very difficult, a very difficult ask ultimately just because everybody else came in with the idea that they wanted to be with each other and they wanted to race with each other. And I'm not saying that Mallory and Mark didn't want to be with each other, but they were suddenly thrust together without sort of any mental preparation. It was like, OK, now you guys are a team; work it out." They didn't have the experience as a team that the other teams had. So yes it was disappointing that they were eliminated so early. Absolutely.
HitFix: Was there any allure to doing more of those mismatched teams and did this prove why it probably shouldn't be done? Why it's sort of very hard to do the Race as is with someone you actually trust and you just can't do it with someone you don't know?
Phil Keoghan: I'm not saying that we wouldn't try. What works about having pre-existing relationships is there's no honeymoon. And I guess my initial concern would be if let's say you and I went out and raced together. You and I might be nice to each other and cordial with each other for half the season if we managed to stay in. And then after and while certain things that we like or dislike about each other would slowly start to come out. And then we might get eliminated and we're out of the Race just as we were getting interesting. Do you know what I'm saying? It's like when you first go out with a girlfriend or a boyfriend or whatever, there's sort of a honeymoon period where certain things are just left off the table. And then after a while you get into it. You really push back with each other and it becomes an existing relationship. It becomes a real relationship. There's no tiptoeing around certain parts of the relationship. And so that would be my only concern is that people would be too polite to each other for too long. And by the time they actually got into being real with each other it would be too late and the show would be over.
You got to remember this is only 12 shows, 21 days. Think about that. 12 shows, 21 days. This is not 12 weeks. This is 12 shows in 21 days. And if you consider that a lot of the times you're doing things together or you're on a plane and you're trying to get to sleep, it's not a lot of time to get to know somebody. So if you're now trying to rush that relationship to try to get real, to me it's just not as interesting, in my opinion, as people coming into it where you got Natalie & Nadiya who have grown up with each other, who might as well just finish each others sentences all the time. To me it's just way more interesting because we got past all the honeymoon stuff, we're right in the middle of it. We're right in the thick of that relationship between Jet & Cord or a couple who has been married or a father-son team. It's real. It's just like you turn the switch, "Let's go." It's not, "Oh, this is a show about people getting to know each other." I don't know. Personally it just doesn't interest me.
HitFix: Sure. And you talked about the Country Blondes and how they sort of a surprise you and probably surprised themselves. And they've gotten a lot of guff, and I'm sure you've seen it online, from people for sort of letting other teams carry them a bit or whatever. What are your thoughts on their strategy and its effectiveness?
Phil Keoghan: They're in the Final 3. So have they done anything wrong?
HitFix: Not that I know of.
Phil Keoghan: Right. So you could argue perfect strategy. Right? If they haven't done anything wrong and they're now have a chance to win $1 million. All kinds of strategies have been tried on "Amazing Race," so they are other teams that maybe didn't do what they did who are not there anymore. So I would just say, "Well, OK, interesting strategy, not necessarily a strategy that's popular, but it's legit. They didn't break any rules."
HitFix: And just as a last question, give me a couple teams from recent seasons who you would've loved to have seen in this All-Atar season who just for one reason or another just you guys weren't able to get out there this season.
Phil Keoghan: Oh wow, so many teams. God. Look, if there's one thing that I feel we got to do sooner than later is we got to do a 24-season or 25-season Silver Anniversary Catch-Up With The Teams kind of a show. We do it on "Survivor" where we get everybody in and we do this sort of thing where everybody gets in there and we do this reunion show. We've got to do one of these shows and that I think will just speak again to just how great some of the teams are. I wouldn't know where to start I mean in terms of some of the great teams that we had before. God, just go through the list. I mean thematically the way you can do this whether you took all the winners to come back and race or whether you took all the first eliminated teams to come back and race. I mean how many great teams have been eliminated over the years that we just never really saw the potential for or of? You know? I mean there's so many different strategies. I'd love to open it up to - if we're going to do another All-Stars like to actually open it up to fans and get them to vote on the mix that they would like to see, all first classed winners, all first in the mid teams. Gosh, I don't know, I mean any number of strategies for coming up with an interesting mix. That said I don't think there's anything more interesting – for me what I love, as much as I love hanging out with all of these teams that come back, to me there's nothing more exciting then rolling the dice on a completely fresh cast. To me it's the most exciting because they're seeing it for the first time; they have no idea what to expect. And we don't know what might come out of that. We don't know what kind of magic combination is going to come out of that. So ultimately I think it's kind of nice that every now and again to do some kind of new mix, but I think at its core what makes the show work is the pre-existing relationships, interesting couples and we get to go on this incredible vicarious adventure with them.