Interview: Phil Keoghan teases the ‘Amazing Race’ Season 25 finale

“The Amazing Race” concludes its 25th installment on Friday (December 19) night with its first four-team finale, pitting Wrestlers Brooke & Robbie, Food Scientists Amy & Maya, Dentists Jim & Misti and Surfers Bethany & Adam.

The field is extra packed because in last week's episode, Amy & Maya reached the Pit Stop in last, only to be told that it was a “Keep on racing…” Leg, which isn't the same as a Non-Elimination Leg, because we already had three of those this season, making four out of 11 weeks in which the “Amazing Race” episode ended without a team heading home.

Earlier this week, I got on the phone to chat with “Amazing Race” host Phil Keoghan about the season so far and the upcoming finale. 

As usual, Phil and I don't always agree on everything. He, for example, insists audiences loved last year's Las Vegas finale. I'm reasonably sure that was not universal the universal opinion.

Phil also saw only positive reactions to last week's result for Amy & Maya, which hasn't entirely been my read on fan response.

And he's sure that audiences started out hating Brooke & Robbie, but have grown to love them. You can decide for yourself!

However, even when we disagree, Phil is always an “Amazing Race” enthusiast, so I enjoy chatting with him about these developments and more, including his appearances within challenges this season and the time crunch that has caused.

Check out the full interview below and check back on Friday night for my full “Amazing Race” finale recap…

HitFix: This season the shift to Friday has obviously impacted the ratings a bit but how do you feel like it has impacted the buzz and the conversation around the show this season?

Phil Keoghan: Well, as far as buzz and conversation I think it's increased because of the fact that people are watching it over more days and so we've had the highest +3 pick-up we've ever had. So instead of it just being one thing that's happening on a Sunday, it's stretching out over the weekend and then into the following week. So online buzz hass definitely increased just because people are watching it over a longer period of time.

HitFix: Okay. So the way you felt has been that the conversation has sort of prolonged, but it's been as much or more than usual?

Phil Keoghan: It's definitely been more, but I think it's just because more people are posting at different times and so it stimulates more conversation. So rather then it all being concentrated on one day where it's harder for people to get a voice all at once, it's stretching out over a longer period of time and so people are then picking up on that conversation and it's creating more chatter than normal.

HitFix: Now as we look forward to the finale this week, a lot of viewers felt like the Vegas finale last season didn't really ask all that much of the teams in order to get to the big prize. Is this year's finale going to be more involved, as it were?

Phil Keoghan: Yeah. I mean I don't know if that was a majority who felt that, because I think the feedback I got from last season was that it was one of the most exciting finishes we've ever had. Ultimately it is a race and so when you say “How much has been asked of them?” I mean they are racing neck and neck. I think that's a totally subjective thing as to whether you've asked enough of them to get from point A to point B. But certainly the challenges are very exciting and when they come into Los Angeles we get them to act out as Hollywood stuntmen, or stunt person I should say because there are men and women who do it. And so they'll get to play the role of an action hero. And then they get to play the role of a real life hero when they work with the Coast Guard, which is also very exciting. So it's quite physical. And then there is a good mental finish just to wrap things up at the end.

HitFix: I think that might have been what people were missing last season was the cumulative sort of season-capping challenge. So there is going to be one of those this time?

Phil Keoghan: Yeah there is a similar one. I think it's impossible to make a show where everybody feels that they got everything they want exactly as they wanted, do you know what I mean? So it's totally impossible. I know just from talking to people there's some people who just absolutely love a certain team or they love a certain element of a show or thing love this, it's impossible to give everybody what they want exactly as they want it. But there is a memory challenge in this. It's a very cool one. But again I can only anticipate that people will like it. I can't, say, take a vote whether people are going to, you know, the majority are going to say this was the best or the worst or whatever. But I think it's really cool. It's big, it's bold and it's different.

HitFix: When you look at the four teams that are remaining, we've had a lot of very close races to the Pit Stops this season, do you feel like it's a particularly, I guess, evenly matched final four?

Phil Keoghan: It's impossible again to say that just because of the fact that they really are so completely and utterly different from each other. That's the thing that makes “The Amazing Race” work is that it's impossible to say whether teams are evenly matched. I wouldn't have thought that The Candy Girls were evenly matched with any of the teams, including some of the teams that have been eliminated at the beginning of the Race. That's why the Race works. I think again just because it is unpredictable. I think you can talk about “evenly matched” when you have people doing one thing in a competition like, “These are the people who are competing in the 1500 meter.” They are evenly matched because their times have been consistent over the last year. Then yes we can talk about “evenly matched.” On “Amazing Race” it's impossible to talk about evenly matched. I mean we had some Dentists who are incredibly confident about their abilities on paper. They have the best track record; they are very intense; they're very confident that they can win this whole thing; they feel like they deserve to win this whole thing. We have another team in Adam * Bethany who are a different kind of methodical, I guess you could say, but they're much more like surfers. They have a kind of a surfer attitude to everything they do. They seem to take everything in their stride. Nothing seems to faze them. Bethany doesn't want to be defined by the fact that she has one arm. Again, she doesn't want to be measured; she doesn't want people to think whether she's evenly matched against other people because he does have one arm, she really is much more about “Don't define me by the fact that I have one arm, just judge me based on how I do things.” And what we've seen from her is we seen her do things that we'll marvel at because again you can't help but think, “She only has one arm” and she's doing these things and she's doing an extraordinary job and beating out teams that theoretically she's not evenly matched to compete with. But she doesn't see it that way and certainly the results haven't shown that. 

And then if you look at Brooke & Robbie, very, very spontaneous and their decision making is almost random at times. They just seem to charge head-first into things like a bull in a China shop. They're very capable. I mean they're both very, very physical but also sometimes they just sort of jump in before they think. So the teams are, I wouldn't say they're evenly matched. I think different teams are stronger and who knows how they're going to react to what we throw them. Again, this is why the Race works, it's because one minute it may favor somebody who's really smart and sometimes it will favor somebody who's very calm and sometimes it will favor – it's not a specialty race, it's anything and everything and you never know how all these different teams are going to react to random challenges. And the Race is all about randomness. It's totally random. It's just like you don't know what you're going to be doing at any given moment.

HitFix: This past week was the fourth episode this season that ended without a team going home. There were the three non-elimination legs and then there was a “keep racing…” last week. How do you feel like that's impacted the pace of the season?

Phil Keoghan: How has it impacted the season, you mean over different seasons?

HitFix: Yeah. Because I feel like there's been at least one more week obviously where we haven't sent someone home this season.

Phil Keoghan: Well, the only difference is just this last episode because there's been the same number of non-eliminations as any season. So you mean how did the last episode impact…?

HitFix: We're going into the finale and in terms of for viewers we've now had two straight episodes where no one has gone home so we've had the same sort of top four. Do you think that's helped us get to know these last four teams better, maybe?

Phil Keoghan: Yeah. And also we've never had a moment like that ever in Race history. I mean all you have to do is look online at how the audience reacted to what just happened. They went completely nuts. They loved it. I mean just to go on Twitter right now and have a look at what the audience reaction was to that moment of the Food Scientists finding out that they were still in and now the anticipation of four teams racing into the final for the first time ever. It's been huge. It's a twist that I actually haven't seen one negative comment anywhere about this twist. I've only seen positive things and I think it's just because people realize that there is now one more team in there so it just creates a different realm of possibility that we've never had before in a final. And people should be excited about it because it definitely adds more energy when there's just another team there as part of that group.

HitFix: And we're coming out of a couple seasons that a lot of people felt were a bit heavy on teamwork between the teams and this season hasn't been like that quite so much. Do you think that's made for sort of a purer season to some degree?

Phil Keoghan: No, I feel like every season is just different. I'm just trying to think about the last one that we just shot. That's the thing about the Race is that it's unpredictable and you just don't know how teams are going to react with each other. So I don't know about pure, it's sort of impossible to say. I think it doesn't give you a huge benefit to necessarily team up, certainly not for a season. I mean it can in a given Leg or whatever but I think that's sort of what makes the show interesting is that you don't know whether people are going to want to work together or whether they're going to want to just be by themselves.

HitFix: If I had asked you at the beginning of the season would you have guessed that the wrestlers would have caused more drama with other teams than they did?

Phil Keoghan: No, I think they played out the way that we thought they were going to play out. I thought they were going to be a funm lovable team. In the beginning I thought they were just annoying the hell out of everybody and the fans I don't think were that warm to them in the beginning. I think they just thought they were kind of loud, obnoxious typical wrestlers who were just over-the-top and annoying. But what happened over the season, and I'll say it for myself too, they just became more enduring and just became comedic because that's just really the way they are. They're just like these rambunctious over-the-top performers. And so I think people found them more funny than annoying and distracting, this last thing with Brooke saying “I'm having a baby!” and she's screaming in the back of the car while they're driving to the next location? I mean they became like the comedians.

HitFix: One of this season's sort of little stylistic twists that's been added in has been your appearances in the middle of challenges with the teams running around you. Talk a bit about those and getting to film those moments this season.

Phil Keoghan: Well, it's always surprising to people when they find out that we shoot 12 shows in 21 days. People just can't get their head around that. And what's interesting is that I've always gone to all of the challenges, but a lot of times if the show is happening and it's going so fast sometimes they don't register that I'm actually at that location where the Roadblock is or at the location where the Detour is and that I'm actually explaining how it works because it all goes so fast, the explanation. As soon as I made the decision to incorporate myself in what we call these live updates, all of a sudden people were like, “Oh so you actually are there when they're there.” I have always been there when they've been there, I've just never injected myself into it like that before. And I just thought it would be fun and different to give an update as it's happening. Obviously I only get one take, but it's sort of like going down live onto the field at an NFL game or at a basketball game and going down onto the court and doing a live update while it's happening. And the teams really loved it. They started interacting with me right from the beginning with Tim and TeJay when we arrived in the Virgin Islands and I did the first one and they were running off the plane and they were like, “Hey Phil!” and then they kept running and went over to get their clue. So they've been very popular with the fans. 

Again, it speaks to just how live the show is. A lot of people talk about “Reality shows aren't real and they manipulate things to happen.” Our show just sort of happens. There's no time for us to stop down and tell them, “Go do this and go do that” and say this and say that, it's just not the nature of our show. So I think injecting myself in there like that only emphasizes again that once they start from the beginning to the end they are just on their own time doing their own thing. Again, it's like a sideline report. Like this Race is happening right now and it's definitely added a different energy. 

We just finished shooting a new season and I did some more again and I've upped the style of that even more incorporating it. It's very, very difficult to do because I have to do all the explanations for all the challenges and I have to stay ahead of the teams. So in order to do those live updates I have to get there before they get there. And then we can't choreograph where exactly they're going to run and exactly how that shot is going to unfold. The cameraman that I work with is used to shooting live sports so we have to adapt. We have to kind of anticipate we think they're going to run here. And then also I have to do something that is relevant to what's just happened so I'm trying to get reports on the fly and quickly put together something that will give the audience some sense of what is happening, an update. It's not like we can stop and go, “Okay let's write a little thing here and what we can do is we can say this, we can say that” or “Let's call so-and-so and find out what happened.” No, it's all just happening. I'm looking at my text and trying to keep track of what just happened and making it relevant and keeping the audience trying to drive the story forward. 

So from my point of view I've really, really enjoyed them because they're exciting and they're happening in the moment and we've got to be quick. We shoot them and then we quickly race ahead because, for instance, if it's just before a Detour I know that I have the amount of time that it takes them to do the Detour, I've got that amount of time ahead of that particular team. But obviously Legs get very complicated when there's a Fast Forward. Like when we had the Fast Forward and if a team gets to the Fast Forward, then I know I've got to get to the Pit Stop because I don't have that time. I know that there's a team now on their way to the Pit Stop, I've got to now get there before that first team. So it's constantly working our driving distances and time. “Okay that team is at this place and how long is it going to take them to get to that place and can I get to that place before they get to there and then can I then get to the Pit Stop before they beat me to the mat?” So time management is a constant. Again because the show does not stop, it's just relentless; 12 shows in 21 days is brutal.

HitFix: As a last question, you guys introduced the Save this season as a potential big game changer and then obviously it never needed to be used. When something like that is introduced to the game but doesn't necessarily come of anything, do you guys sort of shrug and move on — like the season the prize could have been doubled, but wasn't — or does it get brought back immediately?

Phil Keoghan: No. I think you just shrug and move on because, again, you're throwing a game element in there and there's huge risk in throwing an element like that in the game. I'm all about statistics. I know a lot about the statistics of the Race. The chances of it getting played were pretty minimal because we know that the team that wins the first Leg of the Race, there's a very good chance that the team that wins the first Leg of the Race is going to go all the way and make it through to the Final 3. Statistically that's just what it is. So you throw something like that in there and you're rolling the dice. It's not a guarantee. Even the Fast Forward is even a roll of the dice because you can put that game element in there but you don't know that somebody's going to use it. Or there's more chance of a team using say an Express Pass then there is having to rely on the Save. So in this particular season with the Save, the drumroll came down to The Dentists having coming in last and then low-and-behold, as luck would have it, they ended up arriving there on a non-elimination leg and they didn't actually have to play it. When you introduce something like that, particularly with the way that was set up, it is absolutely a roll of the dice. And again it speaks to the fact that our show is not manipulated in any way, because if it was we would have gone, “Look, even though we determined that it's a Non-Elimination Leg, let's just have The Dentists play their save because that will justify the fact that they had the Save and they played the Save,” but it's just not our show. Our show is real and it turned out that they arrived on a Non-Elimination Leg. They didn't need the Save and we stayed true. I think some people assume just because some shows manipulate things that we just sort of chop and change where we have the eliminations and the non-eliminations — “You know what, it would be better if this was a non-elimination because we like this team, we don't like that team.” It's just not the way this show works. And so, case in point, with The Dentists. A better piece of television might have been to manipulate that moment and force them to use it, but that's not what was determined before. But yeah, you're absolutely rolling the dice when you throw something like that in there.

“The Amazing Race” airs Fridays at 8 p.m. on CBS.