Ten-plus years ago Phil Keoghan, host of the The Amazing Race, had the idea for a different kind of reality competition. Tough As Nails is a show that pits contestants against one another in challenges that represent the hard work, grit and determination of millions of everyday people. Last week saw the end of the team portion of the competition and tonight at 9:00PM ET/PT, only on CBS and streaming on CBS All Access, viewers will get to see the thrilling conclusion of the individual competition.
CBS’ Matt Weiss caught up with Keoghan ahead of tonight’s finale to discuss all things season one and the excitement of being renewed for a second season of Tough As Nails on America’s Most Watched Network.
MW: Hey Phil, nice to see you again and congratulations on the renewal for season two! I want to know what were you doing when you got that news?
PK: I always said to the team, measure of success for us will be a pickup from one to two. It’s hard enough to get anything on the air, but then to go from one to two, I think is almost harder.
To be honest with you I expected I’d have a bigger reaction, but I suddenly went into ‘OK we have to do that again.’ I got quite introverted to be honest with you. It wasn’t like a jump up and down moment. It was more like all right what does this mean? How are we gonna do it? Very excited deep down, one word to describe it would be emotional. It’s been such a long, long journey to get to this point.
MW: It’s like you get the job and now you have to do the job.
PK: Yeah, yeah. You never know with something like this. You put it all out there, you put so much on the line. You ask so much of people and they give it everything they’ve got. Then you just don’t know whether it’s all going to pay off or not. Thankfully it did and I’m just very proud of the cast and the team for giving everything, to following a vision.
I’ve been working on this for so long. Nothing in television gets made without collaboration and it’s very important that you stick to the conviction, you stick to your convictions of an idea and execute. You have to find the right people to do that; the people who really believe in you and believe in the project and what it stands for.
There’s just so many variables, so many things that can go wrong. Do you get the right cast, do you get the right challenges? Did you get the right editors with the right sensibility? What’s the music like? Is America ready for a show like this? Tough As Nails is a little more real and gritty as opposed to something that’s more fantasy where it’s about finding love or being a singer or performing. This is very gritty, it’s very real. You don’t until you try it, you don’t know.
MW: And it paid off. I know this is a dream of yours for 10 years wanting to put this show together and tonight we have the season one finale. What does that feel like for you?
PK: Well first off, the team challenge exceeded expectations. The team challenge ended up becoming as big of an element in the show as the individual. I think that’s where the show was groundbreaking – the format in terms of having individual and a team competition, so that nobody would go home at the end.
The finale is all about who is the toughest of them all? Who’s the person who has that perfect combination of strength, endurance, agility, life skills and that mental toughness to be able to win. After coming off the finale of the team challenge, honestly, I was like, I don’t know if we can match that for excitement because it was, it was so good.
It was that moment where Lee picked Murph again or the second time after losing to him. It’s one of the best competitive reality moments I’ve ever been involved in. Then you think, I hope we can do that in the finale for the individual. I’m pleased to say, it does end up playing as big and as powerful as the team finale.
MW: I really like the subplot tying into the individual competition, that four members of The Dirty Hands are in the top five but only one member of the Savage Crew made it. On top of that, it’s also the oldest member of the top five who is the lone Savage Crew member. What’s going to play out tonight when we see that competition?
PK: Well, I think you hit on something, which is I said at the very beginning of the show in episode one, when you’re part of a team you’re part of a family. I don’t know if they fully got that at the beginning but as you see they really have become part of a family. For Savage Crew it’s all about supporting Murph because he’s the only he’s representing the whole team. They’ve been living vicariously through him in the last few episodes. Savage Crew being the team that struggled the most, they were the underdogs, they came from behind. In a way with Murph being the oldest, he is like the underdog in the individual as well.
He’s up against much younger competitors who have all proven themselves over and over again. I think Miles comes into this with two wins, Danny comes in with two wins, Murph comes in with two wins. Now we go into the final five and you’ve got to make sure that you don’t rule out Linda and Kelly who are bad asses. I mean, real bad asses. It’s an exciting one. I think what you’re going to see is just great sportsmanship and great competition. I believe a satisfying finish. I think the audience will feel good about the winner and feel good about how it all comes together.
MW: Now that we’re at the end, it seems appropriate to look back over the entire thing. What were some of your favorite moments throughout the season? Things that really stood out to you.
PK: In episode one, definitely Young running to Linda to help or get to the end in the overtime. Melissa beating out all the boys in the shoveling. One of the things we wanted to prove is that men and women could compete against each other equally. The alternator challenge in episode three with Murph being the last to find an alternator and the first one to drop it off. Lee running off to some pick apart off in another neighborhood.
In four, the hustle and flow, where the teams were forced to work together in the individual challenge and then the overtime with Michelle and Lee, which is going to go down as an epic overtime. In five just how the team really, Savage group, really collapsed and then got into the van, into the damn van and they tried to rectify or get the team back together. They did; by coming back and show six and proving that they could rally together. They almost get the win in six but then they do get the win in seven.
Then Michelle proving that she can go toe to toe at 62-years-old getting all the way to show seven going head to head against Myles and narrowly losing to him. It was pretty awesome. Then eight, the moment of Young and Murph in the overtime, felt really bad for Young only 17 seconds separating them. Then finally Young, the OT OG, gets illuminated, punches out.
Then nine, for me the best moment was Lee picking Murph a second time. It’s one of my favorite moments ever. What he did, put it all on the line, all the cookies were in one jar, it was a wang dang doodle. I love Lee so much. I love all those lines. He was an amazing find. He was a walk up in Saint Louis when we were testing. Those would be the highlights for sure.
MW: Awesome. Last question before I let you go, this show is really about blue collar, everyday people coming together to do something greater than themselves. I think right now that’s something that’s a good message for everyone to hear and to watch. Can you speak to that the overall tone and how that message was delivered in season one?
PK: Yeah, we’re living in a time where there’s a lot of energy being put into what divides us. Being an immigrant myself, I came here because America represented unity in inclusiveness. There’s different ways that you can use your voice to try to bring about change. To some people it’s about peaceful protest or it could be NFL players dropping a knee and there is a freedom of speech in this country where you’re allowed to express your opinions in different ways.
I think with this show we felt like we had an opportunity to not only entertain but also push a message out about unity and coming together for sorting out differences, agreeing to work with each other for the betterment of everybody and understanding the basic things that really make a difference in the world. Love of family and doing a proper day’s work, an honest day’s work.
I felt like we were able to share a powerful message that the country really needs right now. We need to get back more to what unites us rather than what divides us; there’s enough of that out there. It’s not a criticism of anybody having an opinion, I don’t want to be that person.
It is nice to see unity, acceptance, healthy conversation about difference and understanding. I think with all of them in the van when they were talking, they all got insight into each other’s worlds. Maybe they will go away from this and they have a different understanding of what Lee’s life is like in his neighborhood being the go–to guy and putting on 10,000 roofs.
The moment with Miles and Linda talking about the challenges of being a young black man and what it’s like to work with and to have interaction with the police. These are healthy conversations that need to be had because it’s only through people stepping forward and having those conversations that will bring about change. I felt like the show, at the end of the day, it’s a competition reality show but I feel like there were some good underlying messages throughout the show, throughout the season.
MW: Absolutely, there were so many great moments and messages throughout season one and I can’t wait to see what we have in store for tonight. Thank you as always Phil and all the best!
PK: Thanks Matt, same to you!
Tune in tonight for Tough As Nails‘ season one finale at 9:00 PM ET/PT, only on CBS and streaming on CBS All Access. Check your local listings for more information.