Q&A with Phil Keoghan

The Amazing Race proceedings are watched over by athlete, adventurer, and nice dude Phil Keoghan. Phil took some time to talk to us about this season, what keeps Amazing Race one of the most popular shows on television, his favorite documentaries, and more. Wanna read the best date idea you'll ever hear? Read on!

--Adam Downer

GGM: After 26 seasons of Amazing Race, can you tell me why the show has had such consistent success?

PK: I think it’s because we have a huge advantage in being able to keep it fresh by being able to choose locations around the world. Our set is the world! Our challenges are as diverse as anything, and our cast is the most diverse reality cast on television.

GGM: I’ve seen you describe The Amazing Race cast as the most diverse on television before. Can you talk a bit about what you mean by that?

PK: A lot of shows pick their cast by virtue of what they have in common—the best dancers, the best singers, the best designers, the best cooks, the best teachers, the best athletes. There is not about anything in common in these particular teams. They’re about as diverse as the population of America is. We’ve had short people, tall people, white people, black people, democrats, republicans, smart, not-so-smart, fit, very fit, six packs, eight packs, ten packs, professional athletes, people who work in coal mines. When they get to that starting line, when you do an analysis of these people, I don’t know of a show that’s as diverse as this cast. They have nothing in common. Absolutely nothing.

GGM: Well, one thing they do have in common this season is that they’re all dating, in some capacity. What do you think the long-time couples-vs. blind-date couples theme of this season’s Amazing Race brought to the show?

PK: It’s really a social experiment. It really comes down to the question: can two people fall in love on a thirty-five thousand mile race around the world? That’s the question we’re posing this season. We think it’s the most extreme blind date in the history of the world. We’d even file to Guinness Book of World Records! Has there ever been a more extreme first date? I’m not sure, but I can’t imagine there is. For more than a decade, fans have been saying “I haven’t got anybody to take with me,” or, “I’d really love to meet somebody for the first time, and wouldn’t it be interesting if you had people meeting for the first time?” Our show has always been about pre-existing relationships, but we thought it might be really interesting if we brought ten singles looking for love together at the starting line.

GGM: Do you think couples together longer had the advantage? Or was there no correlation?

PK: There wasn’t a real trend! There were times where existing relationships had benefits and times where the new relationships had benefits. Sometimes when people meet each other for their first time, they’re on their best behavior. They’re really attracted to the other person and don’t want to show themselves in a negative light. They wanna project themselves in the best possible way. The existing relationships can sometimes have an advantage because they know who’s better at navigation and who should take control in certain circumstances. There isn’t that teething situation where you’re figuring out who’s best at what.

To me, the most interesting aspect of this whole season for viewers is gonna be “what happens when two people lock eyes for the first time, and twenty-one days later, if they make it, go on a thirty-five thousand mile race around the world, to all these different countries, do all these different things. The audience can see what happens to these people in just 21 days. It’s like a relationship on Red Bull! It’s watching a relationship as a time lapse, where you jump from first meeting to a year later, all sped up into 21 days. The stuff they learn about each other in that time is as extreme as what you’d learn about a person in a year.

GGM: What is your favorite spot visited on Amazing Race this season?

PK: For me, it was Namibia. We went there in season 2, in the southwestern part of Africa. It is home to the world’s oldest desert. It has a species of elephant unlike anywhere in the world. I love the contrast on Amazing Race. They were in Europe, and then they flew out to Namibia, just this spectacular location. The light there, the people, the landscape… it was magical. It was really magical. The teams responded to it.

GGM: Do you have a favorite reality show?

PK: I’m more into documentaries than I am reality TV. I dabble around reality shows because I like to keep a tab on what they’re doing. I keep an eye on Survivor, Bachelor, but I’m not an avid fan. I love rich stories, so I love 60 minutes, but mostly documentaries.

GGM: So what are some documentaries you really like?

PK: I just saw Fire and Ice, which is about Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe back in the day. Really, really enjoyed that. I watched one Forest Whitaker did called Rising From Ashes. It’s about a gentleman that helped some young riders in Rwanda try to get into the cycling circuit. I love it because there’s a bit of history there. You get to understand about the genocide that took place there. It’s amazing that more people don’t know about that. A million people died in that conflict! You learn something, and it’s uplifting as well. Very inspirational.

I also like podcasts. Howard Stern does some great interviews. Alec Baldwin too. I find a lot of times it’s easier to listen to podcasts rather than watch something, because I’m always moving. With a podcast, I can put it on as I’m going through an airport or something. I’m working on my own documentary right now. I did one a couple years ago called The Ride, which aired on Showtime, and we’re working on one right now on the 1928 Tour de France, and we’re very close to finishing that. I love telling stories, and that’s why I like Amazing Race. There’s a richness to the storytelling on The Amazing Race. A real depth to the content, you know?

GGM: For sure! So you mentioned that you love great stories. What are you reading right now?

PK: I am all about non-fiction books. I just read a story about the 1920 and 1924 US Rugby team at the Olympics, and the 20s US rowing team. A new book I’m reading now is on habits. Years ago, I read In the Heart of the Sea, the original story of Moby Dick, and now Ron Howard is turning it into a film. Very interested to see how that turns out. I’ve read a couple Lance Armstrong books, like Seven Deadly Sins and The Secret Race. I’m a big fan of Bill Bryson’s books. Mother Tongue is a great book. I’m a Stranger Here Myself. A Walk in the Woods is a really big one of his. I love The Shackleton Stories. I’m reading one about Scientology right now that will be a documentary. It’s really interesting. It’s called Going Clear. I’m interested because you hear people talk about it all the time, and you wanna know more about it.

GGM: You started season 25 in Times Square. We’re a New York publication, so I was wondering if you can remember any restaurants in New York you like to eat at?

PK: I lived in New York for many years! One of the restaurants I’m really sad to hear closed was on 87th and Amsterdam, where the Popover's was. Very sad that’s gone. Mughlai is an Indian restaurant on Amsterdam I used to go to a lot. When I’m in town, though, a lot of times I’ll be taken out or go to people’s friend’s places.

GGM: You’ve done so much of what there is to do on the planet. What’s one experience you’ve had that you recommend everyone should try at least once?

PK: I think everybody should try to think of something that’s theoretically “ordinary,” but turn it into something extraordinary through imagination. For example, I putted a golf ball across Scotland in 4 days. Golf is a simple thing, but I took something simple, and came up with the idea of doing something extraordinary. I took a 5 star chef to the top of an erupting volcano and he cooked a dinner up there! Think of something you love and do, and do it differently. Take someone on a date to the beach at sunset, and say “what’s that there?” and then you dig out a cooler from the sand you’d buried at 3 that afternoon, filled with fruit or champagne or flowers. You turned what was a regular date into an extraordinary moment.

GGM: I’m totally doing that.

PK: It’s got the element of surprise! That thing you’ve been doing forever—what happens when you take a different look at it? That’s what my philosophy is all about. Use your imagination as your currency. It’s the most valuable thing we all have. You can create extraordinary things out of ordinary pieces of clay. Think differently.

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