The Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan was only 19 years old when his life almost ended. "I was working on an adventure show and I followed this guy into a shipwreck where we were going to be shooting," recalls the 37-year-old New Zealander. "The wreck was about the size of the Love Boat and it was underwater. I go further and further into the ship, and I get separated from the guy I'm with. Suddenly, I don't know where I am. I started to panic.
"I'm very claustrophobic," he continues, "and I'm completely disoriented because I'm in this big, black mass of steel. I don't know where I am and I don't know how to get out. So I suddenly realize that this is it: I'm going to die."
Obviously, Keoghan eventually made it out of the wreck, but the scare profoundly changed him. "When I got out I was motivated to live — it was like a switch went off," he says. "I sat down and wrote a list of things I wanted to do before I died, and that became my life contract. It's what I've made a whole career out of doing."
That's also the driving philosophy behind his new Discovery Channel series, No Opportunity Wasted (Sundays, 8 pm/ET). Created, produced and hosted by Keoghan, the show offers ordinary people the chance to achieve lifelong goals. At the beginning of every episode, Keoghan ambushes a participant — who previously applied to be on the show — and gives him or her 72 hours and $3000 to make a dream come true.
Among the people who've accepted the challenge are a scuba diver who wants to get over his fear of sharks; a former Navy SEAL who parachutes into the Alaskan wilderness for a surprise reunion with a long-lost friend; and a 49-year-old amateur hockey player who longs to play in a pro game. There are also a few more offbeat participants, like the Orthodox Jew who aspires to be a rapper and a man who wants to put on a musical that would star his wife, a burgeoning but shy singer.
While 72 hours and $3000 don't seem like much time or money to accomplish these tasks, Keoghan insists that the point of the show lies in the journey rather than the goal. "We're getting used to instant gratification, and I'm trying to get people to go back to what this country was founded on, which was inventiveness, imagination and resourcefulness," he says. "Imagine if, all your life, you wanted to climb Mount Everest. If I were to suddenly plunk you on the summit, it would be a great experience for you to be there, but it wouldn't feel half as good as if you looked back down and realized you had put in all this hard work and effort to get to the top. That's what it's about with this show."
Keoghan's "No Opportunity Wasted" philosophy doesn't begin and end with the series. He's also written a book (due out next month) and launched a website where viewers can create their own life contracts and apply for the show. By the way, he's still applying the NOW lessons to his own life. So far, he's accomplished 10 of the 12 things he listed on his own life contract 18 years ago, including getting in the ring with a prizefighter and setting a world record for bungee-jumping. The only challenges remaining? Climbing Mount Everest ("I'm waiting until my daughter is a little older so I'm not risking my life when she's so young") and flying in a rocket into outer space.
In the meantime, he's added a number of new challenges to his roster. "The list has gotten bigger and bigger. It keeps growing all the time." Maybe one of them should be to run The Amazing Race for himself one of these days....