In Depth

‘Amazing Race’ Keeps It Fresh

Five-Time Reality Competition Winner Isn’t Resting on Its Laurels

If you are looking for a sure thing when the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards nominations are announced, bet on “The Amazing Race” being one of five in the reality-competition programming category. In the five years in which this Emmy has been awarded, “The Amazing Race” has won it every time. And when they added the category of host for this type of programming last year, “The Amazing Race’s” Phil Keoghan was the winner.

With those facts in mind, Mr. Keoghan would have the right to be pretty confident about the Emmy nominations, but he’s not. “I hope we’re still included in the nominations. I think we’ve maintained the same standard,” he said. “In fact, I feel like last season we actually went up a notch from where we were before.”

Last season was the 12th edition of “The Amazing Race,” and it was good enough to warrant CBS ordering two more seasons, for fall 2008 and spring 2009.

What made 2007 so strong? “We had some new people come into the production and we went to new countries, and there’s an energy and an enthusiasm that comes to our show and keeps it fresh,” said Mr. Keoghan.

“One of the redeeming things about ‘The Amazing Race’ that keeps it alive and fresh is we’re able to go and establish a new stage in every season in different countries. We’re not going to a studio where we know it’s going to be 69 degrees and we know we’re going to be working with professional people who always work that soundstage,” said Mr. Keoghan. “We’re going to new countries, working with new people, and when they get caught up in the enthusiasm of ‘Race,’ it keeps it fresh for all of us. Their enthusiasm reminds us that we’re working on something incredibly special. They bring something to it themselves because they’re looking at it from a totally different perspective.”

“The Amazing Race” creates great entertainment and excitement for viewers, but there’s something more that Emmy voters can see when they judge the submissions each year. “In the viewer’s mind, because the show rolls out once a week, they’ve made the assumption that we’re taking a week to go and set up and get everything together. People in the industry understand that, but the audience is only starting to get that now, what’s involved for us as a production to stay ahead of them and how challenging that is,” said Mr. Keoghan. “People in the industry know what it’s like to get 30 to 40 cameras through customs and signing equipment in and out—every bit down to the smallest microphone has to be documented in and out of countries. They understand that taking one trip to a country is something, but if you’re doing it every other day and they have to negotiate in and out of airports every single leg, lights, tripods, microphones, that have to make it. The show has to go on.”

Like covering a sporting event, once “The Amazing Race” begins, nothing can stop it. “It is without a doubt the most complicated show physically that I’ve ever been a part of, because there’s no way to really control it when it’s under way. You have to roll with it. There are times when I am literally racing to the mat in one direction while they’re coming toward me from the other,” said Mr. Keoghan. “It’s incredibly difficult to get accurate information sometimes, to know exactly where they are. We make calculations about where they should be, but when you’re maybe in India and there’s a protest on the street or there’s a march you didn’t know was going to be happening that day, things happen.”

What makes “The Amazing Race” so amazing is that it’s not like any other race. “There have been races on television since television began, and most are about elite racers. Most racers on TV are racers that are the best at what they do. What is so different about our race is that we have people who are certainly not extraordinary in their ability to race. They are generally not fit, there are beer bellies, tall, short, black, white, some have competed with one leg, some have had recent knee surgery. They are not your extraordinary racers,” said Mr. Keoghan.

“Until ‘The Amazing Race’ came along, I don’t think we’d ever seen ordinary people in extraordinary situations. And not a fly-by-night setup. This is a monumental thing we’re doing. When we set out, I remember we all took a breath after the first leg of the first race and we all said, ‘Oh my God, what did we just unleash? And can we keep this going?’ Speaking for myself, it was a little overwhelming.”

If “The Amazing Race” is nominated for an Emmy again, Mr. Keoghan will be thrilled, but he’s not writing any speeches yet. “I learned a long time ago not to judge what people like, because I’m certainly not an expert. The more I learn about television, the more I realize I don’t know.
“Our job as television producers and television makers is to create something to watch and entertain them. I feel lucky that what we make does appeal to people and it’s something that I feel proud of. That’s a privilege. It’s a privilege to work on something that you actually really believe in and you can sell without any reservation at all. I love selling this show. I love the reaction I get from people.”

“The Amazing Race” is not just another TV show to Mr. Keoghan. “People say what is your job like, and I say, ‘It’s a little bit like having a seat on the floor of Madison Square Garden as the event flashes in front of my eyes.’ I’m lucky enough to have a great seat. I’m right in the middle of it. The energy is absolutely infectious. There’s a real lack of repetition that you see with so many other shows where you go back to the same set, the same procedures. In terms of experience, I would much rather do 20 seasons of ‘The Amazing Race’ that’s always going to be different than 20 seasons of the same show at the same location.”