On the Road with Phil

Phil and Tribefan
Phil and Tribefan
When I think about it now, I realize that if not for an odd set of circumstances and me opening my mouth to ask something at just the right time, I would not have spent an hour and half on Thursday morning with the lovely Phil Keoghan and his dad. And for someone whose bad timing is positively legendary, my timing in this particular instance was impeccable. I’m a media director/supervisor/planner/buyer at a mid-sized ad agency in Cleveland. We do a lot of spot TV buying on the local stations, although the only broadcast media I handle is the occasional cable or syndicated radio buy, because of the nature of my accounts.

Last week, when we first heard of Phil’s promotional cross-country road trip and I searched the CBS website in vain for any information regarding Phil’s Cleveland stop, I off-handedly asked one of my colleagues to ask our rep at WOIO, the local CBS affiliate, if they had any idea what Phil might be doing while he was in town. After the requisite “Phil who?” question, she did ask the rep, Dan, who said that Phil would be shooting promotional spots at the station from 9-11:30 AM on Thursday, and that he would be “available” to meet clients. Kind of vague, but as long as I qualified as a “client,” I didn’t care! In my imagination, we would be lucky to be allowed to stand on the sidelines for a bit while Phil shot some promotional spots, or did an interview, and then have a minute or two to get our books signed and get a quick picture. Or we might just get the minute or two on his way out of the building. Who knew? Dan certainly didn’t, and he wasn’t even going to be there and was referring me to another person I had never met and whose name I couldn’t even pronounce!

As I told emjaytee repeatedly, “I’ll be lucky to get five minutes, tops.” I’ve learned, in my many years on this planet, to always keep expectations low. I’m not sure that Phil and his N.O.W. philosophy would approve of that particular rule!

Because I was so unsure of what I was supposed to do, or even what time to show up, I didn’t want to head over to the station exactly at 9, so I left my office just after 9:30 for the 5-minute walk down the block to the station. It was bitterly cold, and mercifully, WOIO is near my office. When I arrived, the unknown promotions person was paged to the lobby and he had no idea who I was. No idea! (Thanks, Dan!) So, for one brief moment, I thought this all might rapidly implode. But then Rob (promotions guy) said that Dan did say that “some people” were coming down, and apparently that was good enough for him. Phew! Rob informed me that Phil was running late with the radio interviews and would be arriving in a few minutes, “right through that door,” so I should just wait in the lobby until Phil arrived and then he’d come back and collect us both and take us to the “room” that was being prepared.

Phil arrived on cue, not three minutes later, and was buzzed into the glass-enclosed lobby of the station, followed by his dad. He instantly looked right at me and broke into the biggest smile I have ever seen on his face and said, “Hello!! Oh my gosh, what are you doing here?” (in a much friendlier and more welcoming tone than that sounds at first read!!) I quickly told him, and he descended the steps and immediately came and kissed me on the cheek. First Phil-kiss, ever! The most I had hoped for was that Phil might look at me with that “you look vaguely familiar to me” look. I never expected instant recognition and such a lovely greeting!! He introduced me to his dad, John, and excited “how are you, so nice to see you”-type talk commenced. Phil signed the visitor registry, and later on I saw the sign-up sheet and it struck me as very funny – my name at the top, and right below it: “Phil & John Keoghan.”

We chatted while we waited for Rob to retrieve us. Phil talked about the radio interviews he had just done (three), and the lovely snowstorm they drove through on their way to Ohio. I had worried about that a bit – we got hit fairly hard on Wednesday morning and I knew it was headed east. Sure enough, they had to drive 30 mph on the highway through the worst of it! If any of you are wondering – it really is just Phil and his dad, alone in the car, driving all the way out to L.A! He said that he flew his dad in from New Zealand because he needed a good driver to share the driving, and it was a chance for some quality time together.

Rob came out of the office to greet the Keoghans and said that “the room” was nearly ready so that we should head over to the Embassy Suites next door. I had taken my coat off, so instead of going outside and walking the half-block to the hotel, we took a long walk through lots of back hallways in the building to get closer to the hotel and the entire time, Phil and I talked. He wanted to know what I did for the ad agency, and asked questions about Cleveland and some of the older buildings he had seen. And we talked about Cleveland’s ethnic groups and the large Polish communities here and in Chicago. He told a funny story about his days with the Fox morning show and doing a segment in Chicago’s Polish area where Willie Nelson was singing with some Polish guy. No…I can’t picture it either!
Phil insisted, “Somewhere along the way, someone is going to publish a picture of us, with you carrying that bag, and I’m going to hear about it!”
While we were walking along, Phil had to comment on the bag that his dad was carrying, which I had noticed immediately and chose not to mention. John had a canvas-type briefcase with an enormous FOX logo on it. “You’re killing me with that bag, dad. I work for CBS!” But John was having none of that – he loves his bag with its many pockets for all his stuff. Phil insisted, “Somewhere along the way, someone is going to publish a picture of us, with you carrying that bag, and I’m going to hear about it!” I suggested that, perhaps, Rob the promotions guy could fix John up with a nice big CBS sticker or something to cover the offensive logo.

We stood around in the Embassy Suites lobby a little longer, since this mystery room still wasn’t ready, and Phil talked about the “disconnect” that he and his dad were having about music on the drive to Cleveland. His dad had been talking about singers that Phil had never even heard of and John was absolutely incredulous that Phil was so clueless about these people. He mentioned two of the names to me – Kathleen Battle and Renee somebody-or-other. I said that I had heard of the first one, but that the other was a mystery to me as well. Phil leaned into me and emphatically said, “THANK YOU.” Apparently, John thought that Phil was the only person on the planet to not know who these opera singers were! John, on the other hand, had never heard of Usher, although he insists that he did see him at the movie theater once. Ha! Dad humor. I informed them that this “usher person” was now a minority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Which probably meant as much to the senior Mr. Keoghan as the rest of the Usher discussion!

I have since Googled for American opera singers named Renee. It’s Renee Fleming. And no, I still don’t know who she is. John’s 86-year-old uncle, however, wrote her a letter wanting to know when she was going to do a Christmas CD and was pleased to receive a letter in return! The Christmas CD is forthcoming, if you care as much as Great Uncle does!

Finally we were led to “the room,” which was right around the corner from the Embassy Suites bar, where I’ve spent many an intoxicated evening with visiting salesmen! Waiting outside “the room” were about eight other people who were clearly waiting for Phil’s arrival. They all shook hands and introduced themselves. I figured they were a combination of station staff and other media buyers like me, so I just made a general “I’m so-and-so, from crappy ad agency” self-introduction to the group. Phil proceeded to tell them all that “Monica is a very big supporter of the Race – it’s the great fans who have really kept this show on the air.” That made me feel all warm and fuzzy.

We all filed into “the room,” which turned out to be nothing more than your average small-ish conference room with a big table and 12 chairs around it, pens and notepads and jugs of ice water. No cameras, no lights – no set-up for anything resembling a shoot. Phil sat down at one end of the table and his dad took the other and the rest of us stood around not knowing what to do or to expect. We finally gathered that we were just supposed to sit down. People were hesitantly choosing seats and weren’t sitting next to Phil. So, I shamelessly grabbed one of those chairs and settled in for what would be an enjoyable hour-plus of just chatting with Phil about the greatest show on television!

Someone on the station’s staff quietly slipped me a copy of Phil’s book when I sat down. Clearly they had purchased a supply to have on hand – to impress Phil, I suppose. I had brought my own, however, and had no need of hand-outs!

At that moment I also realized that, because I was given such vague non-information about Phil’s visit I actually fared much better than if I had been told to report to the Embassy Suites at 9:30 AM. My way netted 20 solo minutes with Phil. So, thanks Clueless Dan, the sales guy! Now I had to share him with “the others….”

Because I was so unprepared for the nature of this meeting, I did not wear a wire and have no other taped evidence of the long talk that followed. I have made notes of as many things as I can remember and will just spill them here, categorized and in no particular order, and will use Phil’s own words as much as I can recall. Some of these things you may have heard before, or read in an interview, but I’m just going to dump them all here and now! I’m sure I’ve left plenty out, but I think I got most of the highlights, so….
Season 7
  • This new season is Phil’s favorite, and in his mind, he didn’t think anything could top “5.” Season 6 came “too close on the heels” of 5, but shooting season 7 felt “new again.” It felt like the first season, which is special because it was the first. Everyone was excited again and it was a pleasure to produce. It’s an exciting season, with close finishes and good teams, and he’s very proud of it.

  • There will be a new “little” twist on the non-elimination legs, but he wouldn’t divulge more information. He did not say whether this would be in addition to, or in place of, the money-stripping. People tried to be sneaky and get Phil to reveal some unknown info (as in, how did Rob and Amber do?), but Phil insists that, until he hears that the threat of a 10 million dollar lawsuit has vanished, he’s not talking!

  • Speaking of Rob and Amber, Phil acknowledges that a lot of people are unhappy that Rob and Amber were given another shot at a million dollars. Rob and Amber pursued them (the producers) to get on the show, they were absolutely not a CBS plant (my words). Phil actually thinks it’s a good thing. Yes, it’s a ratings ploy, but they’re both competitive people who really love the Race. Survivor has always been much larger (in audience numbers) than TAR, and since not all Survivor fans watch The Amazing Race, if Rob and Amber draw in some Survivor fans and convert them to Race fans, that’s not such a bad thing. And people are talking about it. Also not a bad thing. When reporters ask him, “why are Rob and Amber on the show?”, Phil responds, “why are you asking about it??” Obviously it’s drawn more attention to a superior show, so I have to agree with Phil on this one.

  • As we all know, Phil interviews the teams when they arrive at the pit stops, and those interview bits are interspersed throughout the episodes. Phil calls these discussions “mat chats,” and he says he had some really great mat chats this season. One in particular, with Lynn & Alex, went on for about 45 minutes and contained some really hilarious stuff. At Phil's suggestion, CBS added “mat chat” videos to the Amazing Race Insider section of Phil thought it would be fun for fans of the show to see some of these more lighthearted moments.

Last Season
  • Phil talked at length about “The Shove.” He did not see it happen until after the fact, on film. He was checking Freddy and Kendra in at the mat and what he saw – and responded to – was Victoria bursting into tears at the mat and storming off. What he said to Jonathan was in reference to that, and nothing else. Phil says that he took a lot of heat for not “stepping in” and saying or doing more, but he did not see what had happened.

Casting, Editing, And Other Show Stuff
    A lot of the teams complain about the editing, that they were unfairly edited to look bad. Phil says that there’s a lot of footage of these people – some bad, some good. It is all condensed, out of necessity, and what you get is the very good and the very bad. Because, quite frankly, the rest isn’t very entertaining. But they are showing what happened – what the teams gave them.
  • They have been very lucky in the casting. These are real people (for the most part!) and are often flawed individuals, not always telegenic – but viewers can relate to them and, if they stay in the race long enough, people are invested in what happens to these people. He used Nancy in season one as a big example of this. She was a housewife who had never really left Texas and was experiencing amazing things, well out of the realm of her world. People related to that, and cared about her and what happened to her and her daughter. Phil insists that the Race isn’t cast for the perfect, good-looking people, as other reality shows are. No mention of the model/actor-heavy cast of Season Six, however! He did also say that the people who compete in the Race are not there to become famous. That’s not to say that some don’t aspire to that, but they are, for the most part, ordinary people who want to experience the extraordinary.

  • Phil admits that oftentimes he wishes that certain teams would come in last and get eliminated, because they’re boring and “give them nothing.” And, on the flip side, there are teams that he wishes could stay in the Race because they’re entertaining and they’re giving so much more. Not just in good footage, but “heart,” I think.

  • The crew will tease Phil about looking terrible as the Race progresses. He likes to remind them that they look just as bad as he does, but they’re not being recorded for all the world to see! He talked about how hard the Race is on everyone – no sleep, irregular meals – and that most viewers have no idea what goes into it. The first season he lost 12 pounds; he still loses weight every time but not as much as the first time.

  • Phil insists that he would not do The Amazing Race as a racer. Absolutely would not do it. He has nothing but admiration for the contestants who are willing to put themselves out there, but he would not want to be under that kind of scrutiny in those kinds of circumstances. As a funny aside he said that, if he were in Zach’s position, he doesn’t know what he would have done to Flo when, in Vietnam, she absolutely quit, and sat and pouted in the little round boat. “Drown her?” I suggested. He didn’t disagree.

  • Phil is as sick of “baby” as we are.
Producer Phil
  • Phil has produced every episode/leg they’ve filmed in New Zealand.

  • In Season 2, Phil wanted the tandem bungee jump in New Zealand to be done with one of the teammates blindfolded. The teams would have to choose which person would be blindfolded, and the other person would “take care of” their teammate. Phil thought this would be a real “leap of faith” in trusting their partners. The jump itself is absolutely safe and no one has ever gotten so much as a scratch doing it. But taking that step was incredibly scary, and the other producers decided that the blindfold made it too scary, so they didn’t do it.

  • They wanted to use the zorbing task in Season 2 as well, but it (the zorb place) is located in a very touristy, cheesy area, and they did not want to shoot in a touristy, cheesy area. By the time they were setting up Season 5 tasks, they convinced the zorb folks to let them shoot a zorbing task in a more scenic spot. So, they took the apparatus to Phil’s friend’s farm and had to test run the zorb down that hill, since it had never been done before. Phil and his friend were the guinea pigs. But first they had to check the hill for stray branches and sticks so as not to puncture the zorb. Oh, and they had to move the sheep out of the paddock!

  • Phil is very pleased with the new “Six Roadblock Maximum Rule” (or, as it’s known ‘round these parts, the “Bowling Moms Rule”). He pushed hard for it for a long time and wished it had been implemented sooner (I heartily agree!). He sets up this scenario: “Imagine what it would have been like if Karen were up on the rope and Colin and Christie arrive. Colin can’t do any more Roadblocks, and Christie has to do this one. Imagine Christie competing against Karen – with Colin at the bottom yelling at her to hurry up! That would have been a real race.”

Team Anecdotes
  • Phil told a funny story about Lori and Bolo. He had been talking to Bolo, trying to connect with him on a “manly” level. Bolo’s a wrestler, so Phil told Bolo that he had broken his rib while boxing and it was still healing. Bolo told Lori about this, so Lori thought it would be funny to squeeze the stuffing out of Phil every time she saw him. She’d given him a huge bear hug and it hurt like hell. After awhile, he started running in the opposite direction when he saw Lori coming, and he says that it’s captured on film. That would make a great DVD extra someday, I would think!

  • In a discussion of handicapping the teams, Phil insists that there is no way to know which teams will do well, and which will go out early. Phil talked about Matt & Ana from season one. They both had been in the military and had experience with reading maps. Everyone was very surprised that they were the first out. And who would have picked Flo & Zach to win Season 3? He certainly wouldn’t have! He said that, the first few legs of that Race, all the women thought that Zach was so great, but later on couldn’t understand why he was putting up with Flo’s behavior, especially since she “quit” more than once. In Vietnam, they had to talk her out of quitting.

  • Someone in the room asked about “the identical twins” and the episode when they completely missed a clue en route to the pit stop. I happened to mention what a tough elimination that was since, although we loved Ken and Gerard, we liked Derek and Drew as well – and didn’t want to lose either team. Phil said, “but Derek and Drew weren’t giving as much to the Race as Ken and Gerard were.” He says that in his chats/interviews with the teams, he can get a sense of how much teams are putting themselves out there – in effort, desire and heart. Ken and Gerard were giving more.

  • When Charla and Mirna were eliminated, not only was Phil breaking up about it – there were 80 people behind the cameras, and they were all crying. Phil says that Charla was their littlest Racer, with “the biggest heart.” One of things he loved best about Season 5 was the cast – Colin & Christie, Charla & Mirna….heroes to some, villains to others.

  • Phil says that Steve and Dave, our own ATCs from Season 4, have told him that whenever he’s flying into O’Hare, he should let them know and they would make sure that his flight didn’t get stacked up. They’d make sure his plane landed quickly. Phil thinks this is a scary concept (because they’re such jokesters)....but wishes he had called the guys last time he got stacked up over O’Hare!
All Stars
  • Someone asked if they would ever do a show about the Racers’ lives, and Phil said that they wanted to try and keep it fresh even though they had done the clip show during Season 6. It was my impression that the questioner wanted to know if they would do a “where are they now” type of show, and Phil misunderstood. But this led Phil to bring up the concept of an All Stars Race. Phil said that a lot of people have asked about doing an All Stars, but he didn’t think it would be a good thing because the All Star Survivor hadn’t worked very well at all. I will admit that I rudely broke into this discussion to remind Phil that they are two very different shows and, while the All Star concept didn’t work for Survivor because contestants were targeting former winners, that couldn’t happen on an All Star Race. Not to mention the fact that the earlier seasons of the show are virtually unknown to so many of the newer viewers – so many current viewers have never seen Team Guido, for instance. Phil seemed to agree with this point of view and, when someone else in the room suggested that viewers should vote on who they’d like to see, Phil thought that was an interesting idea. Maybe he was just being polite, but Phil did seem more open to the notion of All Stars – and even said that he thought that viewers would enjoy seeing teams like Team Guido and Charla and Mirna, since the Race has always been about the great personalities of the teams.

Coming Soon….
  • Phil did confirm that the DVD of Season One is finally on its way. For a long time, CBS didn’t see the viability of producing these DVDs, but with the growth of the audience, along with the two Emmy wins, they finally have decided to do it. No further info about the DVD, but it was nice to hear, from the lips of someone who ought to know, that it is really and truly happening!

  • Phil also wanted to make sure that everyone is aware that he will end this cross-country journey with an appearance on “The Late, Late Show” on the 14th of March. Also, he taped an episode of Tony Danza before he left New York, so that it would air while he was on the road. He told me that the episode would air on Monday, March 7, but a quick check of Tony Danza’s website indicates that the episode will actually air on Wednesday the 9th.

  • Sometime in May there will be an episode of Oprah about the N.O.W. concept. No particulars, but he was pretty sure about “May.”

  • Phil said at one point that N.O.W. was on another Discovery network (there are several) now, but I didn’t catch which one…..I’ll have to do some further investigation.
The Fans And Tarcon
  • Phil could not say it often enough – that The Amazing Race has “the greatest, most loyal fans” of any show. He credits the fans for helping keep the show on the air and the fans continue to impress him with their love for the show. Our devotion really blows him away.

  • He asked if anyone in the room had ever been to Television Without Pity (no one had), and if not, that they should check it out. At least one woman in the room wrote it down. Because he associates the two, the mention of TWoP launched Phil into a description of TARcon (he even referred to it as TARcon) – “this great, big party with hundreds of people who are all huge fans of the Race.” He actually got quite excited as he tried to describe the pandemonium. He talked about the last one he attended and the near-mishap with the cake – the publicist from CBS was ascending the escalator with the cake from the CBS party and, because of the crush of people at the top of the escalator, there was nowhere to go. He imagined a cake disaster of epic proportions. He also remembered that he never really managed to get very far past the top of the escalator himself. At this point in the discussion, it was all about Phil and me – since I was the only one in the room who really knew what he was talking about. It was funny to watch him to try to describe the goodie bags (“they make all these little things….”).

  • He didn’t make it to this past TARcon only because CBS kept him busy until nearly 2 AM with promotional stuff, and when he was finished he was just too tired. He had intended to come since he had attended “most of them.”

After an hour or so, Rob the Promotions Manager announced that we had to let Phil and John get on their way after they had some lunch. As soon as Phil arrived that morning, he had told Rob that they were hungry, and had not had time to get any breakfast because the radio interviews had lasted so long. Rob had assured him that they could get food at the hotel. Phil managed to get some tea early on, and they were eventually able to order something from the lunch menu. Their food arrived about the time that Rob decided it was time for us to go. This, of course, meant that there would be a rush of people (who, by now, numbered about 18 or 20 including station staff) who wanted to have their books signed and have pictures taken with Phil. Even though he had to be starving by then, Phil ignored his lunch and accommodated everyone. Not being in a hurry to rush out, I hung back and let everyone go ahead of me – because I’m just that kind of person. Ha! At the end, I believe that I was the last one in the room who did not work for WOIO. Phil was eating his herbed chicken pita by then, but continued to talk to me, so what could I do? I, of course, stayed a bit longer to talk. My mother raised me right, don’t you think?

Our final conversation consisted of lots of bits and pieces…..telling Phil about mjmarble’s “amazing race” at the last TARflies lunch, and learning about the time that friends set Phil up on an amazing race (complete with clues, and an hour and half worth of tasks!) on his way to a restaurant, where he was promptly eliminated….the friends with whom he usually sees me (he even remembered KonaKini’s real name) and how emjaytee and I watch each episode together by phone.

We also had a serious discussion about his book and my plans for creating a list and the personal reasons why. He was very interested in hearing about it and wants me to send my list to him. I guess now I’ll have to do it!

I learned at this point that they had set up a last minute book-signing for him at the new Borders in the suburb of Solon. (Oh goody! More driving!) Afterwards they wanted him to swing by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to shoot a couple of quick promotional spots in front of it. They said it would take only a few minutes and he could even leave the car running! From there he and his dad would head for Chicago. I asked why Chicago before Detroit (and all the extra driving that would entail), and Phil said that it was set up that way deliberately, because they didn’t want to miss the heavier foot traffic in downtown Chicago on Friday, plain and simple.

I finally realized it was time to go and said goodbye. Phil stopped eating and got up to give me a huge, huge hug. I told him how great it was to see him, and he said, “You have no idea – it was wonderful to see a familiar face!” Again with the warm and fuzzies….

I approached John to say goodbye as well and, he too, stopped with the corned beef sandwich to give me an enormous hug. I love the Keoghan family!

By the way, folks, John operates a Bed & Breakfast in New Zealand and Phil invited everyone in the room to stop by if ever they were in New Zealand! For now, though, John is going to enjoy his adventure with his son, exploring new places.

When I left the hotel, I realized that there was no way I’d ever find my way back to the station via the interior labyrinth through which we had arrived, so I had to walk back to the station to retrieve my coat. Outside. With no coat. On a frigid day. But I don’t think I even noticed the cold!

The first thing I did when I got back to my office was call emjaytee to tell her everything that I could remember about what had just happened. When she asked if I had taken a picture of the Mercedes, I took time out to kick myself. Upon leaving the hotel, I had walked right past the vehicle parked on the street and could have taken some lovely shots, but I was so oblivious at that moment that I didn’t even think about it! This started to eat at me and, because I was already worthless for work that day, I decided to drive out to Solon at lunchtime and take pictures of the SUV that would no doubt be parked in plain sight outside the bookstore. It took more will power than I thought I possessed to NOT go inside Borders to say hello (and goodbye) one last time. But my visit had ended on such a lovely note I decided that any further contact would just appear stalker-ish – even though I really was very curious about the success of the book signing. A guy with a camera came out to the SUV while I was there and retrieved a carton of what appeared to be more copies of his book from the back of the vehicle – so perhaps it was successful enough that they had run out of their supply. I certainly hope so!!

I reluctantly bid a silent farewell to Phil and John and headed back to work or, rather, “the office.” There would be no work for the rest of the day, that was certain!! Why spoil the most perfect day in a very long time with anything as distasteful as work?!