23 Dec 2023

Phil Keoghan reflects on his Amazing Race through global TV

From Nights, 2:08 pm on 23 December 2023

Phil Keoghan's television career spans continents and decades. As The Amazing Race enters its 36th season with ten Emmy Awards under its belt, Keoghan joins Mark Leishman to reflect on his path.

Phil Keoghan celebrates winning an Emmy for the Amazing Race in 2012.

Phil Keoghan celebrates winning an Emmy for the Amazing Race in 2012. Photo: AFP

The 35th season of The Amazing Race had taken its 13 teams of two through Thailand, Vietnam, India, Germany, Slovenia, Sweden and Ireland, before finally sending the top three scrambling back to Washington in the US for the final leg.

As the winners, brothers and computer scientists Greg and John Franklin, sprinted to the finish line after travelling over 23,000 miles, the show's host, New Zealander Phil Keoghan, delivered the kicker: "You are the official winners of The Amazing Race! You've just won $1 million!"

Born in Christchurch, television juggernaut Keoghan began on New Zealand screens as a presenter on Spot On in the mid-1980s, followed by That's Fairly Interesting.

The show was a spinoff of American programme That's Incredible, showcasing quirky local people and stories.

"It speaks so much to the New Zealand culture. We all grew up watching That's Incredible on TV - in America, everything was incredible! And then with Kiwis, we do incredible things, but of course, we couldn't say 'that's incredible', we have to say 'that's fairly interesting'," Keoghan laughs.

Then Keoghan had stints with 3:45 Live, Adventure Crazy and Keoghan's Heroes, before he and his wife Louise headed to the US.

He tells Nights that he was no stranger to chasing new frontiers overseas, with his parents' work (his father an agronomist, his mother a teacher) taking the young family first to the Canadian city of Guelph before shifting again to Antigua, an island in the Caribbean, where they stayed for eight years. He says by the time he returned to Christchurch to attend boarding school, he was sporting an Antiguan accent.

While the Amazing Race host now spends most of his time in the US, he's back in New Zealand with his wife this summer working on a reboot of a 25-year-old passion project: a travel show, ticking items off Keoghan's own "life list".

"We shot in 26 countries, doing all kinds of adventures: breaking a world bungy jumping record, swimming across the Bosphorus in Turkey, diving the world's longest underwater caves, having a 5-star dinner on an erupting volcano, getting my reindeer-racing license. All kinds of things that were pretty self-indulgent, really.

"And 25 years later, we've decided we want to pick up where we left off and continue on the list."

A photo of a style page in a 90s magazine. Phil and Mark are photographed side by side, Phil in a suit and tails with navy bowtie, and Mark in a blue athletic sweatsuit, carrying a tennis racket.

Phil Keoghan (left) and Mark Leishman were both television presenters in the 80s and 90s, despite their fashion differences. Photo: Supplied

Keoghan says he's using his genealogy as a guide for where he wants to go, tracing his Irish settler ancestry through some of the most remote parts of New Zealand, and meeting locals as he goes.

"We just kept running into one amazing character after another. Just all these amazing connections," he says.

He recalls a coincidence while working on the project, sitting in with a man working on the maintenance truck on the West Coast's Stillwater rail line.

"Turns out that his grandfather was my grandfather's best man at his wedding. These things just kept happening, one after the other. It was just a wonderful journey of discovery and recognition and acknowledgement of all our ancestors, and applies to everybody who did all the hard yards for me to be able to go off and do a fairly interesting travel show in America."