Phil Keoghan isn’t used to sitting around at home. The host of “The Amazing Race” — a 19-year-old globe-trotting reality show — has averaged about 250,000 miles of travel a year for the past 25 years.
The show was filming its 33rd season in February when the spread of the novel coronavirus prompted producers to send everyone home until production could start again safely.
Keoghan thought it was a good decision and figured they’d be back at it in a few months. Instead, he said in an interview in late May, his late February flight home was the last time he was in the air — or anywhere.
“This is without doubt the longest period that I have had not only on the ground but also in one place,” he said. “Because apart from my office and my house, I don’t go anywhere else. I go for a run, but I have not left my neighborhood. And I cannot remember the last time in my life that I did that.”
In the meantime, he’s been working on a new competition show for CBS called “Tough As Nails” featuring essential workers, which finished filming before the virus outbreak and premieres July 8. And in his downtime, he’s been watching global plane traffic on flight tracking apps, pondering the future of travel and looking forward to seeing his family in New Zealand again.
Q: Have you been thinking about how you expect your own job and the production of the show to change?
A: I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I’ve talked about it a lot with people, because we come into contact with so many people when we travel.
Say in Europe, how do we go to a country there and we’re working with drivers and security people and production people and we get in a confined space with them in a car and drive five hours to a location — how does all that work?
Are we wearing masks and are they vetted? Are we vetted? Are we constantly having our temperatures taken? I don’t know. I’m really interested.
Will people ever shake hands again? Like will we arrive in a foreign country and shake a hand? Are we going to be more like the Japanese and is it going to be a nod or a bow or an elbow? So much is going to change.
Q: Do you have a target date in mind for when — not the show, necessarily — but when you think travel might be back?
A: But isn’t travel back? I mean, it’s not like it went anywhere here in the United States.
Q: That’s a good point. I guess I mean [for] travel to resume some sense of normalcy.
A: I’m not sure that we will ever fly at the capacity that we flew before. Because I think what’s going to happen is travel is going to become more expensive because — just like the expense of adding in the extra security after 9/11 — we’re going to now have to add in a layer of expense to deal with the cost of medical checks.
That overhead has got to be covered by somebody; there’s no such thing as a free lunch, right? Somebody’s got to pay for it, and ultimately it’s going to be the consumer.
Now, we’ll be safer as a result, but there’s going to be a cost to that, so I just don’t think we’re going to get back to the bus-terminal-type travel that we had before where it’s like everybody freewheeling into an airplane and picking up a $69 flight to go to Vegas. I just don’t think that that’s going to happen anymore.
Q: What are you most looking forward to when you can travel safely again?
A: Getting home to my parents, definitely my biggest thing. They just celebrated their birthdays. I had a great hike with my dad about a year ago. We’ve been talking about doing another one. So getting home to New Zealand.
I’m able to see the Pacific Ocean from my house, and I look out at that ocean and know that my parents are just across, and that [the] ocean is connected to New Zealand, and it makes me feel very close. And every day I see the Air New Zealand planes flying, taking off from LAX and heading out over Catalina and I feel connected. It’s like a bird that’s flying home. I just miss being on that plane.
Q: Is there anything that you hope will change about either the delivery of the travel product or the way people will experience it?
A: I hope there is a renewed appreciation for the miracle of flight, and the privilege of being able to be transported and more respect for those who provide those services and that people just don’t take it for granted as much.
I think that’s important. So, I mean, I think that would be a positive thing that could come out of this. Maybe we’ll be a little more courteous to each other and [have] renewed appreciation.
Q: Anything else that has been on your mind related to travel in the last couple months?
A: One of the great things I love about “Race” is that we have encouraged people to travel, we have encouraged people to appreciate different cultures. And I think the positive side of what might come from this is that we appreciate our own backyards more, appreciate what we have around us more.
The sad part of it is I think that as travelers, we will connect less with people who are different and we will become more tribal and insular and maybe less accepting of difference over time.
One of the great things about travel is it’s a great way to learn acceptance and to open your eyes to different cultures and different ways of thinking.
So I do worry that travel also would become too expensive for people who can’t afford to get away, and then it becomes just an elite commodity and that would be very sad.
But at the same time, I do think we can all just be more polished, if you like, with the way that we travel, just a little more appreciative of the fact that people are looking after us. It’s an honor, I think, to be transported in a beautiful plane and fly somewhere.
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