Interviews

The Philiminator Speaks

Jill and Phil<br />
(Photo courtesy of John Vito & Jill)
Jill and Phil
(Photo courtesy of John Vito & Jill)
There's certainly a glut of reality TV shows on the market right now, what do you think makes The Amazing Race stand out?
Race has got tremendous depth to it, captivating characters in unique relationships sharing a 'once in a lifetime' experience as they circumnavigate the world for a million. I like the fact that doing well has nothing to do with how people look, that it's not a popularity contest and that teams determine their own destiny.

I know you can't give away too much, but can you tease us a bit about what we have to look forward to in Season 4?
Season 4 has a fantastic route with some surprising countries. Watching teams deal with severe culture shock has always created great Race moments -- remember Nancy and Emily in India during season one? Let's just say we get to most of the world's continents and visit a few countries that might raise a few eyebrows.

How did you become involved with The Amazing Race?
Well I was up for Survivor with Jeff (we worked at FX together in the early 90's). I guess my name came up again when CBS picked up TAR. I had worked on other projects with some key people involved with Race and co-hosted a CBS special before, so I guess that all helped.


Are you involved with the casting of the show?
Great casting is imperative as the cast writes the show. Lynn and the CBS team are brilliant at what they do. I certainly share my opinion but I am not directly involved, no.

Anybody in particular that it really broke your heart to eliminate?
Eliminating any team is tough, it can be quite gut wrenching. One of the toughest though was Nancy and Emily just because they had come so far surprising everyone, including themselves, and missed a huge opportunity to keep going.
I like the fact that doing well has nothing to do with how people look, that it's not a popularity contest and that teams determine their own destiny.
How well do you get to know the teams? Is it hard not to have favorites?
I get to know the teams extremely well and stay in contact with many of them. Don't ask me to pick favorites though, how could I?

Is it sometimes hard to keep a straight face on the mat at the pitstop?
Oh sure, remember Ken and Gerard on Lake Geneva? Basically it's all for dramatic effect. 95% of the time teams don't know whether they're first or last so I'm working the straight face to get a reaction out of them. I started greeting all the teams in Season 2, I think you'll agree it's added a few dramatic moments to the show.

Any advice for future racers? Lip gloss - does it help?
Mmm... I liked the lip gloss approach but I'm afraid their fate is sealed when they hit the mat, I'm just the delivery boy at that point.

How are the race destinations and pit stops decided upon?
Great challenge idea certainly determine the countries we visit, also how well the country fits into the overall route, cost, political climate, logistical considerations with flights etc., it's quite complicated.

What kind of impact did 9/11 have on race planning and security?
Well Afghanistan got taken off the board, just kidding. We certainly had to reconsider where we went, the world literally changed overnight and we weren't about to take a bunch of Americans into countries we felt were dangerous. Security in America changed dramatically, especially traveling on a one way ticket, all of a sudden we all had to take off our smelly shoes so people could hand inspect them. Why do some of them do it without gloves? Security around the world hasn't changed much at all, America has now just caught up with everyone else that's all.
We all end up like walking zombies at the end of the tour but I like it all, it's a great experience.
During the show, we see interviews with the racers that are filmed during the pitstops. Do you conduct any of these "confessional" interviews?
I do extensive interviews with each team (particularly the last) when they come in. It's the thing I enjoy most. Capturing their thoughts when they're all pumped up is very exciting. The editors mostly use their answers as a statement (without my question), or as sound bites with different video during the show. I get a real kick when I hear something I got from them. The confessionals are done separately once they've had time to cool down and clean up a bit.

As fans of the show certainly know by now, teams get to eat, sleep and mingle at the pit stops. With the mundane things they have to take care of (laundry, eating) and the show chores (interviews) how much down time do they get during a 12 hour pitstop?
Yes they certainly use their time to eat sleep and mingle with the other teams but they all have time to do their own thing. Sleeping is pretty popular as you can imagine.

It seems like the show tries to show off the uniqueness of the locations it visits via the Roadblocks and Detour tasks. Do you get assistance from local officials in choosing, planning and designing the tasks?
Sure, we are very well received and get lots of help wherever we go, nothing like going to a country where the government and people really want to assist you. Now that the show has a following, people offer to help out even more.

For the Australian and New Zealand legs, how did you pick the locations?
I had shot in all those locations before, many times over the years in fact. I had personally done the challenges on camera for my own shows so I knew they would make great television. It was extremely satisfying to call on all my old contacts and have them deliver so well. The greeter and owner at Inverary Sheep Station went to university with my Dad. It was his idea to use John's farm as a pit-stop so I can't take credit for that.

Do you feel they gave a good impression of the two countries?
I was very pleased, I personally got tremendous response and ended up producing 'Kiwi Week' on the Early Show to coincide with the two shows. The exposure was huge for both countries. I spoke to the New Zealand Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Helen Clark, at a function recently and I believe it is the first time that a non-fiction show on New Zealand has screened on a US Network. Lord of the Rings has obviously put New Zealand on the map but TAR2 created a lot buzz too.

Do you have any plans to produce any more legs?
If the show gets picked up I'd love to. Before working on Race I had shot in over 50 countries and there are many TAR hasn't visited.

What has been your favorite Roadblock/Detour/FastForward and why?
Roadblock: the sheep herding in New Zealand, I can't remember if it made it in the show but there was a line from Oswald asking the sheep to cooperate or he'd turn him into a stew.

Detour: Hard to beat Season one Africa, great moments from the Frats, Margarita screaming, the huge shots, povs, the first show ever... great stuff!

Fastforward: John Vito and Jill in Switzerland with the cheese, the look on John's face and Jill's laugh was priceless.

Do the film crews alert you when a team is approaching a pit stop so you can be there to great them?
Having to go to all the locations, I am basically in a race to stay ahead of the teams, sometimes traveling on the same planes. It's a lot of work for the few seconds I appear on camera and there's always pressure to keep ahead of them. I can tell you cell phones are essential.
I first started using duct tape on the right side of my forehead now I just rely on Botox, which helps, but I can't avoid exercising the muscles above the left eye.
What's the biggest challenge on the show for you?
Trying to think without sleep. We all end up like walking zombies at the end of the tour but I like it all, it's a great experience.

Do you sometimes wish you were racing instead of hosting?
For the past 17 years I have always done everything in front of the camera so to be honest I have really enjoyed watching everyone else have a go at things. It's like having front row seats to the NBA playoffs.

Many fans on TWoP have been talking about the idea of an All-Star Race - bringing back 4 teams from the first four seasons to race again. What do you think of the idea?
Great idea, I think that's a winning format. If we get good ratings for Race 4 and there's plenty of heat from the fans then you never know.

Did you have to practice a lot to perfect the eyebrow pop?
Yes, about an hour a day. I first started using duct tape on the right side of my forehead now I just rely on Botox, which helps, but I can't avoid exercising the muscles above the left eye.

We've heard that fans approach you on the street and ask you to Philiminate them. How does it feel to have someone come up to you and essentially say, "I love you, tell me to go away?"
The first time it happened was on the corner outside the museum in New York, on the corner of 43rd and 5th Avenue I think. It was just after September 11th so I was a bit on edge. This guy comes up to me introduces himself and says, "will you Philiminate me?" Before I could answer him he calls his wife, instructs me to wait where I was and then he and his wife go around the corner, turn around and come running up to me. So right there in the middle of the street I raise my eyebrow and do my thing. I'm used to it now but I'm always surprised people like the idea of being eliminated, just as well they don't like to win otherwise I would have handed out millions.

Okay, what's the scoop on your underwater wedding?
I wanted to do something memorable for our five-year anniversary. We both love diving and so I thought why not? Of course the hardest part was finding a scuba diving priest. It was quite a scene with balloons, Banana George as the best man and two dolphins that turned up to visit during the ceremony.

What other projects are you working on?
I have a few offers on some interesting new projects but I'm also pitching some ideas of my own right now.