Keoghan's Amazing Race

HOME AGAIN: The Amazing Race's Phil Keoghan
HOME AGAIN: The Amazing Race's Phil Keoghan

Simplicity. That's the key to the success of The Amazing Race, believes its host Phil Keoghan.

"Many reality shows over the years have tried to do complicated, outrageous formats to get people's attention but we've stuck to essentially the same easily defined idea - people following clues and racing around the world for a prize," the Lincoln-born 46-year-old says down the phoneline from Los Angeles.

"Like any idea though the challenge is executing it. Fortunately, we have a group of people who are the best at what they do and have kept the standards up for more than a decade."

New Zealand is currently airing the 22nd edition of Race and tonight's episode the first of two set in our backyard, something Keoghan is proud to have helped negotiate.

"Our executive producer Bertram van Munster came to me and asked me about another visit to New Zealand (their fourth overall) and I asked him whether it would be possible to go to my hometown Christchurch because I really felt it would give the region a real boost (after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes) and a well-needed Vitamin B injection in the gluteus maximus - if you know what I'm saying.

"To his credit, he really embraced the idea and so I worked to put together some challenges with Canterbury Tourism, who I've been an ambassador for, and New Zealand Tourism and Air New Zealand, and collectively we all came up with some great stuff."

Keoghan says he particularly enjoyed working with people who are his friends and, in the true Canterbury tradition, from his high school (St Andrew's College).

"Christchurch Airport chief operating officer Andrew Lester was my classmate and cricket teammate. I got a tremendous sense of pride out of being able to bring the production to Christchurch in November last year, but also the fact that tens of millions of people around the world will see that Canterbury was open for business, which I hope will have positive effects for the region."

Keoghan says competition for showcase slots on the show is now fierce, a far cry from when they started out. "In the beginning it was about us reaching out.

People were like 'what are you doing'?, 'how does that work'? and we had to convince people it would be something good to be a part of. Now, because we're a global phenomenon airing in more than 100 countries we get a lot of people coming to us saying 'we would love to host you and this is what you could do'.

So does that mean there aren't places left where Race is not known? "There are definitely still places where they don't know what it is, but for the most part our cameras give us away.

"You know the world has changed so much, six years ago we could pretty much keep everything a secret, but now with Twitter people can throw up a photograph of teams waiting for a flight and provide updates. However, for the most part our fans are very respectful about not spoiling it for people."

A big fan of social media, Keoghan says he's not worried about things leaking out into the public arena now. "If people find out that this season goes to Christchurch and the contestants take part in a shemozzle how does that affect their wanting to watch the show? That doesn't tell them what happened, what transpired. Did somebody have a breakdown? What was the drama that took place? If we're just talking about the nuts and bolts then to me that only entice people - 'oh man, I got to watch that show to see what happens'."

Surprisingly the question Keoghan says he's most asked is what he does when the team's are running around. "Really all you've got to do is the maths. We do 80,000 to 100,000km each season. Divide that by 21 days, then work out that we're going to upwards of a dozen countries and factor in all the flight times, challenges and places I go to and then ask yourself 'how much time is left over'? As soon as the last teams come in I'm on the next flight out so I can arrive at the next destination before they do."

But what happens if there's bad weather? "Yeah, that can be the worst for us. We're just constantly praying that the cameras are going to be able to see how beautiful places are - because we get one shot, one windows and if we happen to roll the wrong dice on the weather you're done - there's nothing you can do about it. This is not Discovery Channel where you can sit and wait for six weeks for a bird to come out of a nest."

It's that fast-paced, high-stakes nature that Keoghan believes keeps viewers and contestants coming back to the show. "It grows exponentially each season - it's ridiculous, it's insane. Now of course we have people who want to be a part of the show who aren't US citizens - and fortunately there are now enough franchises around the world,  including Australian, Asian, Canadian and Israeli Amazing Races, people can apply for.

"I think the interest in competing is increasing because people see it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Also, we've established a reputation that we're not about humiliating people for the sake of making television."

Still enthusiastic about his own involvement in the show ("I'm loving it - it's always fresh and stimulating"), Keoghan admits it's a far cry from his first television job almost 20 years ago, working in Studios 3 and 4 in the former TVNZ building on Gloucester St, Christchurch.

He admits to still being very fond of his home province and is actually currently working on a documentary about one of it's less heralded heroes.  Filmed during the recent running of the 100th Tour De France, Le Ride sees Keoghan retracing the 1928 Tour course using a period cycle.

The Australasian team of that tour (the first English-speaking team to compete in the great race) that Keoghan and his colleagues are paying tribute to included Cantabrian Harry Watson. "We just want to let people know who he is. It's going to play in theatres and hopefully on the Showtime channel here in the US, but I'm also hopeful it will get to cinemas in New Zealand as well."

The Amazing Race 7.30pm, Tonight (Tuesday), TV2