Phil Keoghan marvels over how much time has passed since “The Amazing Race” debuted a decade ago. Over 18 cycles and more than 14 months of actual competition, he has visited more than 80 countries, and clocked in more than 500,000 miles in travel.
“I was in my 30s when this started,” he said Wednesday at a Midtown Starbucks. “Now I’m in my 40s. I may end up doing this in my 50s. Then we’ll have to do Amazing Race for senior citizens!”
When he complimented me on my hat, I noted that he is wearing hats on the show now. He said he started doing so because he’s had to skin damage on his face from extended sun exposure due to all the outdoors activity he’s done over the years as well as “The Amazing Race” itself.
And he joked that his skin is even more exposed on top of his head now thanks to hair recession. “The sun is piercing through the scalp a little more,” he said. “Smart man to have a hat!” (Indeed, when we chose to sit outside on the Starbucks patio, he insisted on opening an umbrella so we could be properly shaded.)
Keoghan was in Atlanta Wednesday to promote a new film “The Ride” based on his cross-country bike ride from Los Angeles to New York in 2009 which raised $500,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. He did the ride to challenge himself at age 40 in a way more positive than buying a Lamborghini. He held a screening at Regal Cinema Atlantic Station that night. (I had to cover “Idol” so only caught the first 20 minutes of the film, which featured a camera guy on the back of a motorcycle who tracked virtually every second of Keoghan’s ride.) If you want to see the film, you can order it here at his website www.noopportunieswasted.com.
“It was the biggest mental and physical challenge of my life,” he said. He rode 100 miles a day over 40 days.
Here are some answers to questions I and fans off Facebook and Twitter wanted to know:
When he’s on vacation, where does he like to go: Italy. “The food, the culture, the people, the wine, the olive oil. What’s not to love?” he said.
And yes, he loves to travel. He has saved all his boarding passes going back to 1994 and hopes to turn them into some sort of art, perhaps lacquer them and put them on a bar. Passes are going away due to electronic passes, he noted.
Has he ever missed a pit stop? Amazingly, he said no. There have been plenty of close calls. “I’ve been held in immigration before in the Ukraine. I’ve been stuck in traffic. I’ve got lost. It all happens.” He recalls directions in the middle of Africa which were so vague they included things like “make a left at the big tree and right at the herd of elephants.” And there was no cel phone or GPS.
Holland Coward Muscio a sked what his favorite pit stop was (and he’s done more than 180): New Zealand, where he got to be with his dad. “We just hung out all day on this beautiful hill in Tauranga.”
Muscio also wanted to know his favorite teams? He mentioned a few: The Guidos, Uchenna and Joyce, the Cowboys Jet and Cord, Charla and Mirna, the coal miners, the clowns
Biggest time gap between the first team and last team: 19 hours in Poland.
Melissa Love asked: does he intentionally turn off his Kiwi accent for the American audience? Interestingly, CBS back in 2001 asked him to “Americanize” his accent. By then, Keoghan (who has also lived in Canada and Antigua) had already lived in America for eight years but still sounded a lot like a New Zealander. Back then, before Simon Cowell and Jo Frost and Cat Deeley and Piers Morgan, U.S. executives were not keen on someone with an accent. Nowadays, people ask about why he doesn’t use his New Zealand accent. “I’m damned if I do,” he mused, “damned if I don’t.”
Interestingly, he has spent so much time suppressing his New Zealand accent, in regular conversation, it only comes out occasionally. And he said now that he’s been going with a mostly American accent for so long on the show itself, he doesn’t want to throw people by relaxing it.
Then again, he does have a few ticks he can’t quite shake. He always says “been” like “bean,” not “bin” like Americans. “Why not spell it b-i-n, then?” he queried. He can’t quite wrap his head around that one. He also says “palm” like “pom.”
Frank Rizzo, a former colleague of mine at the AJC, asked: “Does he hang out with the racing teams at all during their 12-hour pit stops? Or do they only see him during the race when they meet him on the mat?”
Just getting to that pit stop on time can be a challenge at times. He also has to shoot video at each of the detours and roadblocks. He whipped out a sheet of paper and showed the logistical challenges visually, showing how he often has to jump forward to keep up with a team that may have taken a fast forward, then back track to shoot video for a detour after the fact before it gets dark. And when the last-place team shows up after the first place team leaves for the next challenge, he is often in a major pickle.
As a result, Keoghan only occasionally gets to hang out with the teams during the pit stops. Typically, the gap between the first and last team is one to three hours and he has to jump ahead to the next location.
Amanda asked: what reality show would he compete on? “I’d probably go with ‘Wipeout.’ It’d be kind of crazy to do that for fun. That show just makes me laugh. It’s like an extended version of a YouTube clip. It’s pie in the face humor.”
Why “The Amazing Race” won the Emmy so many years in a row: “It’ s the scale of it, the enormity of it. We take on the world! It’s such a different show to do compared to those in a studio or one location. We go to the most remotest places in the world.”
Do people mistake him for Jeff Probst, host of “Survivor”? “It’s happened. People call me Jeff sometimes. We’re friends. He said it’s happened to him as well where people will call him Phil.”
His future on the show: “I said I would get out when it stopped being fun. Right now, it’s still fun!”
Here’s my video interview with him, where he handicaps the “Amazing Race: Unfinished Business” final five and laments Jet and Cord’s departure last Sunday (as we all did. “I don’t know if we’ve ever had a team that popular,” he noted.) He obviously knows who wins but doesn’t give it away.
“The Amazing Race,” 8 p.m. Sundays on CBS. Season finale is May 8.