Phil Keoghan promises that he isn't overselling when he describes Season 23 of The Amazing Race as the most competitive yet. "I know people probably think I say this every season, but it's true," he tells TVGuide.com. "This group is just out-of-their-minds competitive. They might be hard to top. It's so much fun, especially when we get back and we know we have good material in the can."
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The new season (premiering Sunday at 8/7c on CBS) includes former Houston Texans players Chester Pitts II and Ephraim Salaam, married ER doctors, baseball wives, Queens of Bingo theater performers and members of the L.A. Kings Ice Crew. Their first stop: Iquique, Chile, where the Double Express Pass is once again up for grabs for the first-place team. The second Express Pass must be given to another team by the end of the fifth leg.
Get the scoop from Keoghan on what else you can expect this season.
The team connections get more and more interesting every season — baseball wives, Queens of Bingo.
Phil Keoghan: [Laughs] They do. We also have the Afghanimals [Leoand Jamal] — that's what they call themselves. I really love the casting process. ... This season we decided to go with hyper-competitive people. They're extremely competitive. It's not just athleticism and physicality, but they're mentally tough. It's people who are used to pressure, used to competing, working hard. There are some very feisty women on this season.
Keoghan: First of all, Jason and Amy — she is totally in control of that relationship. Whatever Jason says — uh uh. She is making the executive decisions and she takes this Race very seriously, like her life depends on it. Every decision is crucial. There's no one on the Race who hates to lose as much as she does, except for Marie. Now Marie is a blonde version of this not-wanting-to-lose mentality. And then you've got to look at the ER doctors and Nicole is no pushover either. Together, those three women are the most competitive we've had on the show.
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How do they get along? Will they match the heights — or lows — of Rachel vs. Vanessa?
Keoghan: There's some battling of the wits going on. None of them likes losing. If you remember Vanessa and Rachel, when they were on the mat and they got into it, and Ralph and Brendon were just standing there. It's a little bit like that. I think guys who are competitive like to play a little more under the radar, whereas women can't help themselves from expressing their emotions and so that competitive streak comes out. They are emotional, they are on tenterhooks.
Guys can hide it a bit more, or at least longer.
Keoghan: Right. I don't mean to generalize and I'm not saying the guys are less competitive, but you don't see it quite as much. I also think guys can put things behind them faster. But these three women are fierce. They're up against some very tough male teams. The Afganimals are tough. And you have Brandon and Adam, who are stealthy. They're like, "Just because we're skinny and have beards and look like we're from Seattle and love grunge music doesn't mean that we can't go toe-to-toe with either of you." Throw in some NFL players and hey, you can't play in the NFL without being competitive, and some of our challenges this year and it's just a recipe for an all-out battle. The theme of the season is off-the-hook competitiveness. It's the next level for sure.
Are we going to see a lot of arguments come out of this or a lot more game play? Or both?
Keoghan: I think they're less emotional outbursts like we've had in the past. But they're very calculated outbursts, very calculated moves. You'll see teams let other teams know what they think, but it's in a much more controlled way. It's calling a spade a spade and seeing how the other team reacts. It's like, "OK, the gloves are off."
The past few seasons have seen a lot of alliances, some of them all the way to the end. Does the competitiveness mean we'll see fewer alliances this year?
Keoghan: No, there are definitely alliances this season, but alliances can only last so long. The other big factor this season is we brought back the Double Express Pass. You see a lot of sucking up. The alliances come from a necessity for survival. There's a bit of that fakery — "We'll do whatever you need." There are some great moments with the Express Pass in terms of teams prepared to suck up and also trying to use a little blackmail.
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That kind of strategizing was definitely missing last season after Dave injured his Achilles'. It let Jessica and John off the hook to give it to him and Connor and be the nice guys who did a nice thing for an injured team.
Keoghan: I agree. You're going to see that kind of strategy this year. There's a pivotal moment where the team who has the Express Pass is in a power shift. Another team does a pretty good job of convincing them that they should keep them in the Race and give the second Express Pass to them. It's not just one team; it happens with a couple of teams. There's a lot more gamesmanship in terms of strategy. Just because of the competitive nature of the racers, I think there are more mind games.
Will both Express Passes be used unlike last season?
Keoghan: [Laughs] Yeah, ov vey, right? "Oy vey" started trending on Twitter after that whole thing. ... Just today, I got stopped on the street and someone said, "Love that 'oy vey' moment." I think we need to make T-shirts that say, "The Amazing Race... Oy Vey." I think it would make big money! It was a classic moment. I realized in that moment that nothing I was going to say was going to convince him that he made a bad choice. Really? You're not upset about it?
Are we going to see any "oy vey" decisions or moves of that caliber?
Keoghan: That moment is definitely a one-off. We have other memorable moments this season. [Last season] was the denial "oy vey." We have some surprise "oy veys" this year.
How did you do in your final three predictions? Still terrible?
Keoghan: Oh, yeah! Terrible. I don't know if it's because I'm not that smart, but I never do well in the guessing department. What I can tell you is that I picked the top 10.
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Out of 11 teams.
Keoghan: [Laughs] That's how bad I am. We have a pool every season and I look down at all the teams and honestly I couldn't work it out. We do it order of the way we think the teams will be eliminated and I was just hopelessly wrong.
Are there any unexpected runs like the Beekmans? Will we be surprised by who makes it far?
Keoghan: As the season progresses, it becomes very clear who is really playing the game well, but there are also a couple moments where teams you don't expect to be competing for MVP suddenly sneak up and make the other teams take notice. That's a little bit like the Beekmans, and I love that. Maybe a team doesn't perform well initially, but they get stronger as the season goes on. That always makes for interesting television. We also have some teams that look like shoo-ins for the final three and there's a shock turn and you're like, "What? They're gone?!" Yes, they're gone.
Are you saying there'll be a shocking early elimination?
Keoghan: You're going to absolutely have some shock eliminations. With a group as competitive as this one, I would've been surprised if there weren't any. You'll be led to believe one thing about a team's performance and their strength, and they'll get eliminated and you won't see it coming.
What's the latest on Season 24?
Keoghan: We are looking at casting. The producing teams are out scouting. It's a very exciting course, so hopefully we can lock it down. We're always looking for new countries. We try to do that every season. We try to go somewhere we've never been before and we also listen to the viewers who say, "Oh, I'd love for you to go back to this place. It's been a while." So there'll be something old and new.
The Amazing Race premieres Sunday at 8/7c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)