After seven straight wins at the Primetime Emmy Awards for reality-competition series, The Amazing Race was dethroned this year by Top Chef — a loss that Phil Keoghan sees as a positive. "Change is just a really good thing," the Amazing Race host tells TVGuide.com. "And it only makes us want to continue to make a good show, which I think we've done this year." The globe-trotting series' 17th installment kicks off Sunday with a new and heavily-hyped game-changer called the Express Pass. See what Keoghan has to say about the new element, what teams you should watch out for, and if Padma Lakshmi really hit him on the Emmys red carpet.
TVGuide.com: I was bummed you guys lost the Emmy, but seven years is a really good run.
Phil Keoghan: Yeah, I think change is always good. It's funny because I was using a surfing analogy on the red carpet about how working in the entertainment industry is a little bit like surfing in a sense because if you get on a good wave, a wave will always break no matter how good the ride is. It was just weird that we went seven in a row and the wave broke, since in surfing, every seventh wave is the big wave and then it cycles again.
Keoghan: [Laughs] She definitely gave me a couple of good jabs with her purse. I've never met her before, so I got such a shock, like, what?! It came out of the blue. All of the sudden, my arm was being pounded. I'm always respectful of the fact that people voted and this year they voted for another show. We really try to do new things every season and try to be as good as we can be. TVGuide.com: Speaking of new things, what can you tell us about the Express Pass?
Keoghan: Well, first of all, I think we've tried to always inject new things, but at the same time, we don't want to mess with something that's worked. Like I said, change is always good. It livens up the show and keeps everyone on their toes, especially for a show that's been on as long as ours. This is a tool that teams can use to help themselves stay in the race and it's something from the beginning that gives them an extra incentive to race really hard right out of the gate. It rewards the team that does well, but unlike the Fast Forward, its impact is not for one leg. It has an effect on the entire race. TVGuide.com: Was it just a coincidence that there are three hair stylists on three different teams this year?
Keoghan: [Laughs] You know, I wouldn't have noticed that had you not said something. We certainly didn't set about trying to pick a whole bunch of hair stylists. I don't know how interesting it would be to have a whole cast of hair stylists. Maybe it would be. Maybe we'd call it Hairspray or something: The Amazing Race: Hairspray.
Keoghan: We have very strong, all-women teams this season, which is great. Michael and Kevin — father and son — have a really interesting dynamic. They're like Ron and Christina from a few seasons back. When there are two generations connected by blood, you can end up with these really cool dynamics because it's like they're living on different planets and they wouldn't in a million years be with each other if they weren't family. ... The father is funny, but he doesn't know he's funny. Because of that, it makes it so much more enjoyable. You're watching something that's real and raw. In the reality world, it's getting harder to make sure that you don't have people auditioning who are trying to pull the wool over your eyes because they come to the auditions with preconceived ideas about what they think they should be as opposed to what they are. "We should be like the crazy hippie couple." They try to fit something that they think we need. Just be yourself. If yourself is not what we're looking for, then try again. TVGuide.com: The cowboys last season is probably the most beloved team in Amazing Race history. Is there any team you think fans will take a liking to?
Keoghan: If I were picking an all-stars cast, I would definitely pick the cowboys to come back. That was the caliber they were, and we certainly have a few of those this season. One of my favorite relationships is Gary and Mallory. This is a beautiful woman who has so much bubbly personality that it just pours out on the screen. It's infectious energy. It's really exciting to watch her. Her dad really brought her up like a tomboy, so it's weird she's as tough as she is and she's Miss Kentucky.TVGuide.com: How about villains?
Keoghan: I'm going to leave that for the audience to judge, but there definitely are teams where people are going to be like, "Aw, man, I can't stand this team" or "I can't believe they did what they did." I think it's important to have those teams — those who are maybe overly confident and get knocked down a few pegs when they see how tough the race is. Or they made assumptions about other teams and find themselves in a situation where they're humbled. There's always a honeymoon period in the beginning where everyone's trying to be nice, but as the race goes on, it settles in and you have to do whatever it takes to win.
Keoghan: I'm surprised actually because I got a lot of emails from people. It was so clear-cut. Normally, fans are very, very informed, but for some reason, they got confused about that one, and it was so simple. They asked, they didn't pay for it, and they moved forward. I think if it was a team they really liked — like the cowboys — they wouldn't have bothered making a stink about it. But there were some who were questioning it. It's totally within their right to do it. They never broke a rule. [Moving up to first class has] been done many, many times. I don't know if people realize how seriously we adhere to rules. We're traveling with a lawyer, consulting with lawyers back here about every rule and game judgment. There is a rulebook that we follow very, very closely. We're not going to jeopardize the franchise by changing things. TVGuide.com: You go to some new places this year: Bangladesh, Ghana, the Arctic Circle...
Keoghan: Yeah, Bangladesh is just a mind-blowing place to go to, one of the most densely populated places in the world. It can be an overwhelming experience for people who come from open spaces. The Arctic Circle — what makes the show so interesting is that the teams will fly from a place like Africa to the Arctic Circle, so, it's like I said in a script meeting, they're going from the furnace to the freezer. You're constantly testing people and throwing them out of their element. Then you have them do the tasks that are always exciting. The tasks dictate the content since you never know how anyone is going to react to them.TVGuide.com: You've had some well-known people on the show and there has been chatter about a celebrities-only Amazing Race. Do you think that's a good idea?
Keoghan: I think we should listen to the fans and if the fans think we should do it, then we should. I think it would depend on who those celebrities were. I think there are some who I think would be really good. But then there are some who I think might want to go on, but not be that good. The other thing is, how realistic is it? I don't know if some of the celebrities who have spoken to me are fully aware of what exactly it entails. I think they like the idea of it because they see it on TV once a week for a few months, but I think living it might be a little different to what they're used to. There's always that unknown factor about what happens to someone when they travel. Then it comes down to if it's realistic for them to do it, if it fits into their schedule and if they can put up with our schedule. There's no trailer, hair or makeup or hotel to go back to. But I think it'd be fun to watch.The Amazing Race 17 premieres Sunday with a 90-minute episode at 8:30/7:30c on CBS.