Debashine Thangevelo

FATE has an uncanny way of steering the course of an individual’s life. Such is the story of Phil Keoghan, who, while studying to be a cameraman, braved the unpredictable world of television to audition for Spot On, a kiddies’ show, and clinched the role of presenter.

Several presenting gigs later, during which time the 44-year-old ventured into reporting for That’s Fairly Interesting, he had cemented his destiny on the box.

Interestingly, before he found fame with The Amazing Race, he was shortlisted alongside Jeff Probst for Survivor.

On it perhaps being a blessing in disguise that he did not get the job, Keoghan says: “I think Survivor is a great show. I was bummed when I didn’t get the job. I know Jeff well; we worked at Fox for many years. I remember we talked on the phone about wanting to get the job. I feel, in the long run, it worked out perfectly. I can’t imagine Survivor without him and I can’t imagine not doing The Amazing Race.”

Aficionados of the show will concur with Keoghan; as its host, he is the epitome of charismatic and is a winning combination of forceful or empathetic, whichever the situation may demand. And being the adrenalin junkie he is, with shows such as Adventure Quest, Everest: after the climb and No Opportunity Wasted under his belt, his thirst for adventure also held him in good stead.

While South African viewers are watching the show’s 18th season, titled Unfinished Business, starring notable contestants who were eliminated in previous seasons and are now getting another shot at winning, Keoghan says he is busy penning season 21.

On whether he still gets that excitement he did when he first hosted the show, he says: “It’s a different level of excitement. What keeps the show exciting is that we never do the same race twice. We have new faces and scenery and that is what I believe makes it amazing.”

With the show’s format serving up detours, roadblocks, fast forwards, yields, U-turns and speed bumps, I asked Keoghan about the interesting twists this season.

Unfortunately, as they are so far ahead in the series, he struggled to get his memory to play ball and was most apologetic about it.

He continues: “I think the best challenges for the contestants are the ones centred on what people do in a particular country. If you go to a country where their big thing is washing clothes, or putting up posters in a certain way – it is an ideal choice to explore that. And it is a far more interesting challenge to bungee jumping, which you can do anywhere in the world and at any time. Challenges that are specific to a place make it more remarkable.”

A high point for him this season is their visit to India, exploring Kolkata and Varanasi in episode six and seven.

“Any time we go to India, it is obviously good,” he says. “Varanasi was unbelievable. It was a really overwhelming place for a lot of the teams. It is called the ‘holy city’ and the Ganges runs through it. You see people bathing in the river, there are a lot of holy men around and we had teams interacting with them. To me, it is like being on another planet.”

On the Austrian leg, which featured in last night’s episode, Keoghan says: “It was extremely cold when we were there. The globetrotters had an eating challenging where they had to finish two large servings of traditional cuisine (wiener schnitzel, sauerkraut, and sachertorte) in a dining car with Viennese music playing in the background.”

With the 11 teams comprised of people of different ages, backgrounds and relationships, it isn’t easy or fair to single out the most promising team.

Keoghan nods: “People always say they will do ‘whatever it takes to win’. There is not a lot they have in common. Some are fit, some unfit.

“In season three, the team that gave up came back and ended up winning the race. Each team is so different from the other – you can’t really say who is the stronger or firm favourite.”

Elaborating on his task, he says: “My role is to facilitate them, if you like. To get the best out of them. When they come in front of the camera, there is a lot you don’t see. I have to keep abreast of what is going on with them every day and to see that they are motivated.

“There were times when I got quite frustrated with the teams. It rarely happens. But on occasions when I have a team waiver, I tell them to never give up, to stay motivated and hungry to compete.”

As for the reunion theme pervading this season, he maintains: “Some people hate teams coming back and some love it. It really polarises people. This season we went back to our roots – we have everyone from grandparents to snowboarders to a married couple to dating and engaged couples. Crazy things happen.”

Keoghan says the 19th instalment is just as unmissable.

“We have been wanting to go to Indonesia, but things didn’t work out with permits. To finally get to go to such a unique place was real eye-opening. We were so embraced there. We’re hoping to go back in the next few seasons, too. Right now I’m writing the script for season 21 and working on the publicity for the 20th season.”

The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business airs on Sony Entertainment Channel (DStv channel 113) on Sundays at 7.45pm.