It's been 10 years since Phil Keoghan first set off on The Amazing Race — but don't show him pictures from back then. "I was talking to [executive producer] Jonathan Littman and he said, 'Man, Phil, I found some photographs of us from 10 years ago where we were at the finishing line in New York City — we were children!' I was like, 'Do I want to see those?'" Keoghan tells TVGuide.com. "But I really can't believe it's been that long. It's quite extraordinary to think about."
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Ten years later, Race is still on top of the world — reclaiming the reality-competition program Emmy after seeing its seven-year streak snapped by Top Chef last year — and is still upping the game every season. The 19th installment, premiering Sunday (8/7c, CBS), features a new element, the Hazard, which is a penalty given to the last team that completes the starting-line task, its first-ever double elimination, four new countries and some pretty well-known names: Survivor champs and couple Ethan Zohn and Jenna Morasca; Zac Sunderland, the youngest person to sail around the world; Olympic snowboarders Andy Finch and Tommy Czeschin; and former NFL player Marcus Pollard.
See what Keoghan — whose film The Ride, which supports multiple sclerosis charities, will air on Showtime later this year — says about the new twists, whether or not the show is stunt-casting and what helped them prevail again at the Emmys.
Congrats on the Emmy! Did you think you could win it again?
Keoghan: Thank you! I did not. It's pretty extraordinary. I thought that to change the Academy's mind back again would be a very difficult thing to do, and we certainly focused on doing that and making sure we got their attention again, but I really did not think we would win. The episode that was sent through in Varanasi was a very special and unique episode that we felt could earn their respect, and I guess it worked.
Last season was also your first in HD. Do you think that contributed at all?
Keoghan: I do. I think that HD has absolutely enhanced the product and I do think that played a role, just because all of a sudden what we're doing is being shared on a whole new level. ... A huge part of the show has always been showing off where we, are and now with the format and the HD, it's added a dimension to the Race that we just didn't have for years, and I think you'll see that even more this season.
This season you have four teams of well-known people, at the very least in their own fields. Some fans think there's been too much stunt-casting in the past few years. Do you feel that way or should it not matter what one's notoriety is if they want to be on the Race?
Keoghan: I don't think it's any different than when we had Rob and Amber [Mariano] or a team from Big Brother or the Globetrotters or champion bull riders with the cowboys. It's just about finding interesting people, and I think as the show's gone on, more interesting people have reached out to us. At the end of the day, it really has less to do with that someone is a celebrity than it has with the fact that if we find somebody we think is interesting. If [someone's] more interesting than a celebrity, then we're going to pick the more interesting character. ... I think it's great we have such a competitive group this time. It's a way of trying something different — these four teams are people who are proven in their fields. You will see right from the start that the so-called ordinary people there are extraordinary in their own right. They take it as a challenge, like if they know somebody has accomplished something and received notoriety for that, then they're definitely out to crush them.
Meet the Amazing Race 19 cast
Is it more pressure on the Average Joes or the four teams?
Keoghan: Oh, the four, absolutely! But at the same time, people at the starting line are not necessarily going to know who Marcus is. So the question is, is he going to disclose to people that he played in the NFL or is he going to try to slip under the radar and hope the attention goes to Ethan, who some people will definitely say, "Oh, that's the guy from Survivor," or [to] Jenna from Survivor. To the audience, they know who all these teams are because they get introduced to them, but to the rest of the teams, maybe they don't recognize Andy or Tommy.
Their hippie look is totally going to throw off some people too since they did not look like that at the Olympics or during their careers. Do you think more well-known Racers should play it that way or even lie about their job like the poker girls did in Season 15?
Keoghan: Yeah, I think it's less about lying and more about being quiet. The teams are not going to put their hands up and say, "I have an announcement, everybody: We're Olympians. We're very competitive. We're incredibly agile and have great eye-hand coordination and we just wanted to give you a heads-up because we think it's good for you to know we have these great skills coming into the Race. Thank you." [Laughs] They're going to pretend like they're a couple of cruise-y guys living out in the commune somewhere.
Why did you guys add the Hazard?
Keoghan: It was a way to test people's mental strength out of the gate. How will they deal with this penalty and a surprise challenge out of the starting line? It was like a warm-up. It's something that is announced at the very beginning, but it has a rolling effect going forward through the rest of the Race. On the other side of things, the Express Pass is back. That has been something people have wanted to fight for. It's been a great addition. You want people racing from the start.
It's only been in effect the past two seasons, but I think it's funny that the two teams that have won the Express Pass both came in third and were undone by a bad cabbie.
Keoghan: [Laughs] Yeah, if there's one consistent thing on The Amazing Race, it's the unpredictability of the cab drivers. The times I worry the most about the teams are when they're in somebody else's vehicle and when they're driving. I don't worry about anything else on the show because we test every challenge over and over again because we're paranoid about making sure it's a safe, fair race. Other shows can control challenges in a studio or on a set, but we're operating in the real world. We have a few circumstances this season. The weather played a major effect on where we went later on. We had to change course midway through, so that was a challenge.
You also had your first-ever double elimination.
Keoghan: That's not something that the [teams] know straightaway either. We only tell them about the new challenge and the Hazard. And, yes, as luck will have it, out of the gate, some real-world influences play into that first episode of our Race in Taiwan. One of those golden moments that happened added another layer to everything that was set up. Fate plays a huge role. It has a domino effect on the teams and [was] something that was completely out of our control and made us scramble.
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You visit four new countries, Belgium, Denmark, Malawi and Indonesia. That's a pretty big number for one season.
Keoghan: Yeah, this is a lot for us. Indonesia is a big one. It's such an exotic, stunning place — more volcanoes there than any other place in the world. It has an incredible, rich history. Any time we can show off somewhere new is very important for us. ... And we pride ourselves on having indigenous challenges. Because there are certain jobs and ways of life in Indonesia, we want to integrate them into our challenges. There's a reason people are fishing the way they're fishing.
There are missing passports yet again in the first episode. What other drama can we expect? Anything like chocolate gnome-gate?
Keoghan: [Laughs] Oh, nothing like that. But things do get very heated and people make assumptions. I think we have a great cast this year. ... You're going to see how impossible it is to judge who is better — like the flight attendants. They're not necessarily the fittest people, but certainly they've got knowledge of getting through airports and how travel works. I think we have the most competitive cast yet.