Amazing Race’s Phil Keoghan: The Final Leg Is “Very Unpredictable”

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Phil Keoghan | Photo Credits: Heather Wines/CBS

After 25 seasons, there are still some firsts on The Amazing Race. Phil Keoghan threw down two major curveballs last week: Not only did teams have to immediately continue onto the final leg, but for the first time, four teams will race in the final, with one unlucky pair to be eliminated during the middle of the last leg.

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“We’re not a show that’s ever had to go to a place of jump the shark and do something that’s so off base from what people expect that it affects the show,” Keoghan tells “This particular twist seemed to work well without affecting the format and I think it makes the last leg more exciting and interesting.”

The beneficiaries of the twist were, of course, food scientists Amy and Maya, who literally seemed down and out after Amy suffered heat exhaustion during the Roadblock. But with a last-minute reprieve, can they take down wrestlers Brooke and Robbie, surfers Adam and Bethany and dentists Misti and Jim on Friday’s finale (8/7c, CBS)? Keoghan breaks down the final four, the Hollywood-influenced final leg and he goes over his “really bad” pre-season predictions.

I was going over your predictions before the race started. You had Brooke and Robbie in fourth, Misti and Jim in third, Kym and Alli in second, and Michael and Scott in first, so you had two of the final four.
Phil Keoghan:
 I guess I was pretty close in the end. I was close with Kym and Alli too. To me, they were a shoo-in. So, I guess I did really bad overall, but I actually didn’t do too badly with the top [teams]. I only really messed up with Michael and Scott, and they totally messed up! [Laughs] I just really thought they would be a lot stronger. That was a big surprise for me. But I think the biggest [surprise] is Amy and Maya. They’re definitely underdogs at this point. 

Especially after last week.
 Yeah. Obviously everyone thought they were going to be eliminated. It just so happened that that challenge was so tough, carrying those coconuts. When they checked in, we had to sit Amy down, get water. It’s very difficult to get across heat on TV. If you’re not staying on top of it, hydrating and everything, it’s awful. They could have sat there as long as they wanted to. There was no pressure to get out until they felt like they could stand up. At that point, they probably thought they were eliminated too. But we don’t want them running and fainting in the street. We knew based on where they were going to next that we weren’t going to put them at a disadvantage to let them recover fully. We definitely had to make sure everyone was alright before I delivered the news.

Why the twist with four teams in the final? I don’t think many people saw that coming.
 It got a lot of good reaction from fans. It was just something different. We don’t really have to rely on tricks on our show, but this seemed to make sense. … The way that it worked out that it was that particular team who were the underdogs was just perfect. Ultimately it does come down to a final three because we do have an elimination midway in the final leg.

And it is just one final leg.
 Right. It’s one leg. Along the way, they’ll turn up somewhere and one team won’t be able to continue. It’s based on who’s last at that particular point. It really has to do with them turning up somewhere where only three teams can do something. As you know, the lead can change radically on the final leg. It just sets up more variables with four teams. It is a very unpredictable leg. 

So the elimination could come down to luck. You can leave a task first, get a bad cabbie and get eliminated in fourth. 
 In a way. Everything is pre-determined. A lot of people think the surfing [Fast Forward] was made for Adam and Bethany. No. The challenges are planned months, months in advance and then there’s no way of knowing who will still be in or, in that case, chose to do it at that point. This, it’s like, “Sorry, you missed the boat.”

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What’s in the envelope?
 Ah! [Laughs] Secret coded information for them to know and for you to find out! You must not open this envelope until instructed to do so.

What can you share about the tasks? Is there a memory one?
 The teams will be action heroes, like Hollywood action heroes. It’s something we’d been wanting to do for a while. We got cooperation of the unsung heroes of Hollywood. … We also get to work with some real-life heroes, the search and rescue division of the U.S. Coast Guard. We do have a memory challenge. The fans love when teams have to remember what they’ve done. That is done on a huge scale in a big environment with big pieces. It’s really fun. They have to dig deep and go deep into their memory banks about the season.

What’s your take on the final four? I think Brooke and Robbie are hilarious.
 Yeah! They really grew on people. At the beginning, they annoyed the hell out of everybody. That’s what I was hearing. “Oh my God, these guys are so annoying with the fake tans and the big show.” They thought they were obnoxious. As the season went on, people started liking them. I would call them the entertainers. They knew how to make everything fun. The banter between them was fun. Some of the things that would come out of their mouths… they won [fans] over. And they continued to be consistent. 

They’re really impulsive. They don’t really think things through, like the whole thing with the U-Turn and then lying to Amy and Maya.
 There are some teams that are inherently so worked up that they forget they have to stop and think. Those two are so impulsive. They leap before they think. It’s just part of their personality. They seem to get themselves into trouble. They’re not methodical. They don’t think things through, but I think it’s part of what makes them so interesting to watch. And I think a lot more people are like them or would probably act like them on the race than like the dentists even if they don’t think they would.

They’re the opposite of Adam and Bethany. I don’t think they ever had a massive meltdown, unless you didn’t show it.
 I don’t think they did either. They have inspired so many people. Their relationship is really special. He just adores her. He’s like a gentle giant. I really love the relationship between the two and it’s like they’re one. Bethany epitomizes the most important thing about the race: You never give up. You never know. You should always just go. Bethany has that attitude. 

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Nothing seems to faze her.
 Yeah. They’re so calm and so calculated. They don’t make excuses. She didn’t bring up the idea that she lost her arm. I didn’t force her because I realized that while it’s part of her, it doesn’t define her. She doesn’t talk about life from the perspective of having one arm. At one point, she said to me, “You know, what happened to me was meant to happen to me.” It was quite poignant. It spoke to the fact that she doesn’t use that as an excuse. This was meant to be part of her life. It made her live her life differently. She wants people to say, “Look how well this person can do this challenge.” Why define it by one arm? Just assess her as having done the challenge. I really stayed away from focusing on that.

The dentists are ruthless, but they’ve made a few big mistakes. Will that tunnel vision hurt them in the final leg?
 They are ruthless. They operate like they’re going in for a root canal. They’re going in deep every time. They’ve got all their tools and they’re going to the nerve and they’re taking that bad boy out. They are intense, focused, confident. They make mistakes, but I don’t know if they see it that way. They don’t lack confidence. Jim really does seem himself as a superior racer and themselves as a superior team. On paper, in terms of wins, that is true. Statistically, they are that team. They’ve made some terrible mistakes, certainly in Copenhagen, and when they were saved on a non-elimination leg and didn’t have to use The Save. When they reflect, particularly Jim, he’ll analyze it a lot, but he doesn’t get discouraged. They’re very positive and confident in their own abilities, and I think in the final leg, they are very conscious of their mistakes and learning from them.

Amy and Maya, like you said, are the underdogs. Will there be any aftereffects of the heat exhaustion on Amy?
 Well, that’s the question: Can they rally to try to stay in? By the time they left me, she was OK. I think everyone’s exhausted at that point, but everyone also rallies for the final leg. They’re another team that has won the audience over. They were kind of nondescript in the beginning. I didn’t know what they were, what they stood for or what they were about. They evolved into the little team that could. I don’t know anyone with more energy than Maya. At the Pit Stop in Malta, she said, “I’m so excited, I want to run.” I said, “Do a lap.” She ended up doing four or five laps. … I called her a little hummingbird. I’ve never seen anyone move with as much energy as her. They’re like real opposites in terms of energy level. Amy is so chill, so whatever, go with the flow. She has a dry sense of humor. She’s mellow. Maya is the complete opposite. They both very book smart and they do think things through, which is their advantage. Where did I pick them to come in?

 Yeah, I guess I didn’t see them going this far.

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You had Adam and Bethany in seventh.
 Oy. That’s bad. Yeah, I felt like they would’ve gotten more overwhelmed by the international travel, not from a physical standpoint, but from a cultural point of view. But I was wrong! And I’m happy to be wrong.

Do you think fans will be happy with the winner? What’s the finish like?
 I think so. We’ve been blessed with our finishes. It is once again a close finish. I think it’s because there are a lot of challenges that helped neutralize the leg and also with four teams. It actually created more of an opportunity for a close finish. It’s what we want. The finish we had last season with Dave and Connor — [the teams] were literally in the air at the same time. This one is a good one too. It’s exciting. It’s one of those episodes where you’ll come away feeling satisfied.

The Amazing Race airs Fridays at 8/7c on CBS. Check out our behind-the-scenes footage from the start line:

(Full disclosure: is owned by CBS.)

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