Last year was busy for Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan. Not only did he film three back-to-back editions of the reality hit, he also launched his new TV series No Opportunity Wasted and published a book based on the program. "I only had two days off and traveled 465,000 miles," says the exhausted New Zealander. "I really need to take a bit of a break."
Before he can slack off though, he's got to tell TVGuide.com all about the seventh edition of The Amazing Race, which premieres tonight on CBS at 9pm/ET. Keoghan acknowledges it's strange to be gearing up for another season so soon after the previous one wrapped, but he's very high on Amazing Race 7. "My favorite season before this was Season 5," he says. "There was something about that season that captured the magic of what the race is all about. I never thought it would get any better than that, but I have to say that Season 7 is now my favorite. It is, without doubt, the strongest one we've ever put together."
His enthusiasm will hopefully reassure fans of the reality adventure, many of whom were disappointed with last season. "Season 6 was quite a different series for us," Keoghan admits. "It got a very different reaction from people. It produced the best ratings we had so far, so more and more people were watching the show. But it was different, and I personally didn't know that we'd get the reaction to Jonathan and Victoria that we did. This season, the show has definitely gone back to its roots. There are a lot of photo finishes, and there are a couple of new twists and turns that will really engage people. For example, teams that come in last place will face new consequences that we haven't seen before."
Format changes aside, Keoghan cites casting as the main reason for this season's success, starting with the biggest names, Survivor winners Rob and Amber. "They stirred the pot up quite a bit," he laughs. "Some people were surprised by the choice, but just to be clear, they came to us about being on the show. We didn't go and find them."Not everyone on the race was pleased to see them, either. "Right from the beginning, there was quite a bit of animosity directed towards them. I can't say they were warmly embraced. This was a totally different experience for them. I think they were quite surprised by the speed of the race. On Survivor, they're used to not eating and talking a lot. There's no real downtime here."
In addition to Rob and Amber, Keoghan says fans should keep an eye on a few other teams. (Click here for photos of them all.) "There's Ron and Kelly, a dating couple," he says. "He's a POW who was shot down in Iraq and was in the news for quite a while. There's also a married couple, Uchenna and Joyce. Both have worked for companies that went bankrupt; both have had financial difficulties in the past and both are absolutely desperate to have a child. They really came into this race to win. A lot of teams come on for the experience, but this team is there because they want to win the money and use it to have a child. There's a real focus there and you don't see that with a lot of teams.
"Boyfriends Lynn and Alex are one of the funniest teams we've ever had on the show," Keoghan continues. "I thoroughly enjoyed talking to them each time they came onto the mat and I think they're going to be hot favorites on the show. Finally, mother-and-son team Susan and Patrick are a dynamic mix. She's this bright woman who works in the judicial system and he's this wannabe writer from Hollywood who is also gay. So you've got a real contrast there. Also, it's a mother-son relationship, which is a first for us."
Now that Amazing Race 7 is in the can, you'd think Keoghan would take a work-free vacation. But no, on Wednesday, he heads out on a cross-country trip to promote his book and to scout contestants for the eighth season of Race, which will feature families instead of two-person teams."I'm driving through Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, Albuquerque and Phoenix, arriving in L.A. on March 14," he says. "Mercedes has given me a G-series vehicle and my dad is flying in to take the trip with me. I've always wanted to do something like this with him, so this will be a great experience. I'm really looking forward to meeting the families. This is a great way to take the show out on the road and speak with people directly." And after that, maybe he'll finally get that break.