The Amazing Race kicked off Season 20 with what Phil Keoghan called the "most bizarre Pit Stop." On Sunday (8/7c, CBS), the season will close with the series' "biggest shocker ever." For the first time, the team who arrives first at the finish line will be turned around for not completing a task correctly. "We were shocked as the viewers are gonna be," Keoghan tells TVGuide.com. "We were like, 'What just happened?' ... I couldn't believe it happened. Never have we had to tell the team that comes in first that they didn't win the $1 million. But it's good to know we can still have firsts 20 seasons in!" Of course, that team still has a chance to win if they can rectify their mistake at the Roadblock before the next team arrives.
So which team — married couple Dave and Rachel, Big Brother's Brendon and Rachel, border patrol agents Art and JJ, or dating divorcees Vanessa and Ralph — makes the potentially fatal error? Keoghan, obviously, cannot reveal it, but the eyebrow-raising host has plenty to say about the two-hour finale (the fourth place team will be eliminated in Japan, with the final three racing in Hawaii), how he thinks the team screwed up and the cast's excessive bickering.
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I've been watching since the first season and have always wondered if a team will ever mess up on the last leg and get turned back when they think they've won. And now it finally happens.
Phil Keoghan: [Laughs] I guess you kind of hope sometimes things like that will happen — not that I'm wishing for anything bad to happen to people. But of course it makes it interesting every time something new happens. ... It's weird because we've had it happen so many times on other legs, where a team has come in and not completed the course properly, and it's just never happened at the finish line ... It was a real surprise to all of us. It's not something we've sat around and talked about like, "Oh, can you imagine if we're on the final leg and a team comes in and doesn't complete the course?" We were all just like, "Did that just happen?"
Normally when a team runs in to the mat, it's done and dusted. If they see somebody on the mat, they know they're not first. If they see a clear mat, they think, "We just won The Amazing Race!" And certainly, this team came to the mat thinking they had just won The Amazing Race. Everything for them, running in — even the teams standing there didn't know — everybody's cheering, they've already cashed the check [in their minds], they jump and they're like, "What? We have to do what?" You see the shocked reactions from the other teams. That's absolutely genuine. They didn't foresee it either.
You hinted on Twitter that they didn't read the clue correctly. But I think a lot of people are wondering how they could get the next clue if they didn't complete the Roadblock. Or did they just stumble onto the next task without doing it?
Keoghan: We don't want to give it away because it's more complicated than [not reading the clue] — it's a lot of things. For this one team, they get told some news that they were not expecting to hear. Ultimately, everybody should read their clues. I think that and have your passport would be right up there. Know how to swim and drive stick. Those would be in the top five for sure.
After the fact, could you understand how they messed up? Do you think it had to do with fatigue? There are a lot of physical challenges on the leg.
Keoghan: There are some mental challenges, but I think this is the big challenge with The Amazing Race. You're going back and forth all the time between physical and mental challenges. You have to switch parts of your brain, if you like. That is, I think, tough for teams. When it's physical, they're moving and they feel like they're getting ahead. They feel like they're making progress and sometimes it's just better to stop physical motion altogether and just think. Just because you're going somewhere doesn't mean you're actually getting ahead. This team gets to the mat first, but they didn't do everything correctly.
Is there a memory challenge on the final leg?
Keoghan: Not a memory one, but there's a mental challenge. It's different this year. We're always trying to mix it up. But I think one of the best tasks is in the Japan leg with the Japanese game show they have to do [in which teams must grab dangling chickens while running on a conveyor belt]. (Check out a sneak peek below.)
Is the host the same one from the wasabi Roadblock in Season 15?
Keoghan: [Laughs] But now it's a different show! It's such a fun game. It's so ridiculously crazy and funny. When I shot my stand-up there, we had an outtake where I was explaining how the challenge worked and this person fell over and did the complete opposite of what the teams had to do. We just stood there with a dead chicken looking at this person and laughed. There's lots of that humor with the teams. I gave it a little shot too. I couldn't help myself. I did not [fall over], but I stumbled for sure.
Let's talk about the final four. I don't think there's been this much hostility between teams before and a lot of fans find them annoying and catty. Obviously a lot of people already hate Brendon and Rachel from Big Brother. But Art and JJ won't let the non-U-Turn go. People don't like how hard Dave is on Rachel and Vanessa keeps stirring things up.
Keoghan: Yeah, that's all very true, but you just never know what you're gonna get in any season. There's no denying that Big Brother certainly stirred things up and there is more bickering. I don't think that's a bad thing at all. I think you need the difference. Like Bopper and Mark — I don't think we've had a more popular team since the cowboys [Jet and Cord]. I would say Bopper and Mark, the cowboys, the Globetrotters [Flight Time and Big Easy], and Zev and Justin are the top four picks for sure. ... Out of them, I would venture to say that Bopper and Mark is the most popular team we've ever had. But sometimes a team like that doesn't end up as captivating if there isn't also some adversity. If everybody was like Bopper and Mark, the show would appear a bit flat. So I feel like this season we ended up with a spectacular cast. The fact is there are people who stir other people up in life. Not everybody is perfect and some people do get catty with each other.
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You don't mind that a lot of fans feel like they don't have a team to root for?
Keoghan: No. I think all the teams left deserve to be there regardless of how people feel about them. I'll tell you — my MVP this season has been Rachel of Dave and Rachel. I think she has been just an extraordinary racer. He's way too hard on her sometimes. I told him he needs to give her props. ... In terms of being even-keeled, keeping her wits about her, keeping her energy up, tackling any challenge, she is in my mind the top player. I've got to give props to all the teams there, including Brendon and Rachel. A lot of people want to shoot them down and want to discredit them. They say they're crying all the time, but the fact is, they've made this Race really interesting. Whatever people want to say about Brendon and Rachel in terms of their personalities, they've run this Race fairly, followed the rules and now they're in the final episode. You have to give them props. They've beaten a lot of strong teams and they're very consistent.
Were you surprised Vanessa accused them of cheating at the last Pit Stop? If they had cheated, you would've penalized them already.
Keoghan: I wasn't surprised. I encourage them to vent. Part of what I'm there to do is to facilitate a discussion, and I could tell that she had something on her chest, so I told her to vent. You've got to understand that if you're racing and you think that somebody hasn't done something properly and you don't have all the facts, it's gonna eat at you and you're gonna vent it eventually. In the end, they called a truce. On average, I would talk to each team for 10 minutes. On that day, it was 30 with the two of them. What was interesting to me, if you watch the extended Mat Chat online, was how the men dealt with it.
They were almost embarrassed by it.
Keoghan: Right. Poor Brendon and Ralph. They were like, "C'mon! Let's move on." But that's the difference between the way guys deal with conflict and the way women deal with conflict. Guys get it out and move on. I'm generalizing, but a lot of times, guys will scream at each other, but once it's out, it's gone. They don't go back on it. With women, they tend to hold on to things longer. They want to fully explore feelings, what it really means, what they think it means. There's a lot more discussion.
Well, JJ is still hung up on Dave and Rachel not U-Turning Brendon and Rachel.
Keoghan: Yeah! I think he's tapping into more female tendencies. A lot of times Art has been like, "Let it go." You've noticed Art is the more chill of the two. JJ has definitely gotten more highly strung. Art and JJ have gone through quite a character arc, or at least JJ has. He started out kind of relaxed, they gave Bopper and Mark the money, which was incredibly generous, and now he's a lot more riled up and intense. Every team that is there has shown both sides of the spectrum of emotions. We've got a lot of Type As — a lot of emotion, a lot of angst. You've gotta remember that everything that happens is heightened because of sleep deprivation, pressure and what they've gone through. Quite frankly, we need people that are really, really hungry to win. That energy comes out on the show and the audience picks up on it. Even if they dislike it or they dislike that person for whatever reason, we want passion. We want fight. We want people to really want to be there and to win, and all of these teams do.
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How do you think fans will feel about the winners?
Keoghan: Well, they've all divided the fans so much. I think they'll all have fans who will be very happy and some who will not be happy at all. There's not one team that has solidified universal appeal. People who love Brendon and Rachel love Brendon and Rachel like I have never ever seen anyone love a team in my life. And those people who despise them despise them more than any team we've had. Same thing with Vanessa and Ralph, and all of them. But even if you don't like them, you have to respect all of them for their effort and what they've done.
Do you have any updates on Season 21?
Keoghan: We start filming in the summer. We're working rapidly to get everything in line. We're excited to be going out again. Some stuff is locked and some stuff is up in the air. Up until the day we leave, we're still finessing. ... There'll be some new places and we're finalizing the cast. We hit a homerun with the cast this season. I think as the show has gone on, we've gotten better teams because more and more people who are fans want to be on the show.
Will there be another Big Brother team?
Keoghan: [Laughs] I don't think you can do that every season, so we'll have some different types of people. Familiar faces? I dunno.
The Amazing Race airs Sundays at 8/7c on CBS.
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- Phil Keoghan