Phil Keoghan is gearing up for a big weekend. On Saturday, his documentary The Ride — in which he biked across the U.S. to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society — premieres on Showtime at 8/7c. On Sunday, The Amazing Race returns for its 20th season (8/7c, CBS). "[The scheduling] was not planned. It just ended up being that way," Keoghan tells TVGuide.com. "The great thing is it's almost three years to the day I started my bike ride and we just hit the $1 million mark. Now the teams are starting their Race for $1 million. One's for charity and one's a race around the world, so it's pretty cool." What was planned though was having Racers start off their globe-trotting adventure on — what else? — bikes, and infusing the season with a wee bit more drama by casting everyone's favorite Big Brother couple they love to hate: Brendon and Rachel. We caught up with Keoghan to get the scoop on Season 20 and why it's not to be missed.
Phil Keoghan: [Laughs] I wish! It was pitched to me and I was asked if I liked it. I said, "Well, is the Queen English?" To which they said, "Yes, she is." And I said, "There you go! Of course I'll be open to that." ... Normally I'm on a building, I'm on a cliff, and they're being transported separately and we all meet at the starting line. This is the first time we're all heading to the starting line together. I love it because the Race is starting before it starts and you can see their personalities right away, like Bopper and Mark are weaving all over the place. Dave and Rachel are very steady and are getting frustrated with Bopper and Mark, who kept racing ahead. Last year was the 10-year anniversary of the show's premiere, but it's Season 20 now — a nice, round and big number. Did you guys design this season with any goals in mind for this milestone?
Keoghan: You're right, even though last year was the official 10-year mark, this season was the pivotal mark for us. I don't think we were particularly looking to do anything special or different because one of the things we're all so proud of is that we've managed to make every season so exciting and so original. A lot of people who work on the show are big fans. When they come in, they bring that enthusiasm that is needed to keep a show like this fresh. We're going to Azerbaijan on the edge of Caspian Sea for the first time and it's a world unlike we've ever seen on the show. To look like a new show is a real testament to the longevity of this particular format and what has held this show in good stead and solid ratings.You did play a big card, casting Brendon and Rachel, who might be the most divisive team ever.
Keoghan: Yeah, it's been quite controversial. I've had really interesting feedback. There are some fans who really just don't like that they're on. There are Racers right at the beginning who make it clear they don't like it. I don't really know why they think it's not fair. We've had known people on before, including Big Brother people. We don't have rules that say "you can't do this, you can't do that." ... But when you put a team in there who don't get a positive response, it's still a good thing. You want people to get stirred up. You want to have a team that people are going to talk about — and people are talking about them. But even people who hate them are going to watch.
Keoghan: That's the thing. Do you hate them to a point where you're just not going to watch? Or do you watch because you don't like them? I think it's the latter. People would be crazy not to watch because of them. Trust me, you're gonna want to watch Brendon and Rachel. You will see a dynamic we've never had before. It's wild. Any other time we've cast known people, it's never been like this. We've never had a reaction to a team from other teams like we have — this animosity and tension.
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Is there friction between other teams or does it all stem from Brendon and Rachel?
Keoghan: Yes and no. We have some very strong personalities and the strongest personalities are absolutely the women. Rachel's one of them, Vanessa's another, and they all clash. We have a good mix of people. We have some eye candy with the twin brothers. We've got the border patrol agents, who are all business, the federal agents who are women and tough as nails, but are also eye candy. Things just really clicked this season.
Do you watch Big Brother? Were you aware of them?
Kepghan: No. I don't watch a lot of TV. ... I had to literally hunt down clips and discover who they were and why people hate them so much. I saw why when I saw the clips. [Laughs] I realized, "OK! There you go." I think it's important to have an adversary. That's what life is like. There's no point in casting a show where everyone is perfect and no one pisses you off. Every day you're going to get rattled by somebody because they cut in front of you at the grocery store. Brendon and Rachel are, let's be honest, a truly unique relationship. Nobody should judge anybody in any relationship if it works, but it's definitely an out-of-the-ordinary connection. [Laughs] It's not your vanilla ice cream relationship. It's definitely a rocky road chocolate. I'm sure Ben and Jerry's has some crazy flavor that epitomizes what they are.
You still have the Express Pass, but no Hazard. Any new twists we should keep an eye out for?
Keoghan: Just little tweaks here and there. Right out of the gate, you've got teams leaping out of a plane at 14,000 feet sort of under false pretenses. But there's not gonna be a trick every task.
Is there any task we should look forward to or you were particularly fond of?
Keoghan: The stuff in Azerbaijan was really interesting because the culture is so centered around oil. There's a challenge where they have to get involved in oil, quite literally. It's very unique. ... Everywhere we go, we're always looking to tap into something that's ordinary there, but is extraordinary here. That's why we always look fresh. I think it's difficult for a variety type show where people are singing or dancing on a stage setting. I think they have a much tougher time looking fresh. "Let's try red gels instead of blue gels. Let's put balloons out instead of streamers." There are tricks you can do, but it's still less surprising because for the most part, it's still a performer on a stage. I think we're lucky that we're always able to explore and do new things.
Keoghan: I was hoping you'd tell me! What's up with that?! You do not get a license until you can drive stick in my opinion. I don't know what he was thinking. One word: moronic. I mean, seriously. We've been on 20 seasons, 10 years, and you come on not knowing how to drive a stick? ... It's like coming on and not knowing you have to fly to another country. It's one of those life skills, like how to swim. So [future] Racers, be warned: Learn to drive stick and learn to swim.What's the latest on Season 21? Any more Big Brother teams on the docket?
Keoghan: [Laughs] We definitely got plenty of attention from this one. There'll be some other surprises, but I don't think it will be a Big Brother surprise. We are casting right now and scouting locations. Hopefully we'll go to some new places. It's usually logistics that get in the way. I've always wanted to go to Nepal and Bhutan... but it's very challenging to get in and out of there. What's incredible is that we've been on for long, yet we pull out the map and we see all the places that we haven't even touched.The Amazing Race premieres Sunday at 8/7c on CBS. The Ride premieres Satruday at 8/7c on Showtime.