"It's a massive social experiment."
That's how Phil Keoghan describes the new season of The Amazing Race (premieres Friday at 8/7c, CBS) -- and the pun is fully intended. Season 28 features teams of social media stars -- or, as CBS dubs them, "social media influencers" -- including YouTube stars Tyler Oakley and Korey Kuhl, lifestyle vlogger Blair Fowler, Marty Cobb of flight attendant demo fame, and PACM the most legendary poster of the domaine bleu message board. The announcement was met with some excitement, but also plenty of groans -- which Keoghan says he does not really understand.
"I think for a lot of people, there was this immediate reaction of, 'Ugh, why?' But why not?" he tells TVGuide.com. "It seemed like we were steering our way towards this cast, but it wouldn't have worked years ago. It only works now because we're at a time where we're fascinated by the idea [that] people can go online and create their own channels. ... These people found a way to connect with a small, passionate audience and now they have a chance to connect with a bigger one."
See what else Keoghan has to say about the theme and why these social media stars deserve as fair a shake as any average Joe.
Meet The Amazing Race 28 cast
When did you guys first think of doing all social media stars?
Phil Keoghan: I think it was something that was just organic. I don't think it would've even worked as well three or four years ago. ... It only works because we're at a time where we're fascinated by the idea [that] people can go online and create their own channels. This would've been unheard of when we first started. The idea that people had their own shows, their own networks in a way, out there, offering content to fans -- it was unheard of. To me, we're at a pivotal point in the world of content. I almost feel like the bubble is gonna have to burst at some point. There's so much incredible content online and there's so much for people to choose from -- you can watch someone do their hair or you can watch the most well-produced dramas. Who would've imagined? We're embracing the zeitgeist.
You guys kind of embraced the social media aspect in Season 19, when Twitter helped Kaylani get her passport back.
Keoghan: Yeah, and there are still people today that think we set that whole thing up! It just seems implausible that somehow the online community could rally around her and support her. There are still some people who don't understand just how extensive this world is. They take it for granted that that piece of information traveled around the world and came back to Los Angeles and helped them out. And there are others who just don't believe how extensive their reach is and [can't] get their heads around it.
What do you have to say to fans who don't like this theme?
Keoghan: There are some fans that don't understand why we're putting these people on, because they see them as stars. I was trying to explain to some fans at the Super Bowl, "No, these are ordinary people who had something to say, who found a way of saying it when they normally wouldn't have had a way of getting out and talking to people. Tyler just found a way to connect with people. So did Brodie. They have a platform to show something. What's nice is people have a choice to watch it or not." They're not so much stars as they are people who have just found a way to connect with like-minded people. They're as ordinary as anyone we've ever had, if you look at the diversity and their backgrounds. Sure, we've got people who see them as celebrities and some of them have become celebrities, but not a celebrity in the way we've always understood it. They're celebrities in a way that's very niche. Blair is talking about beauty tips. That's not mass, but there's still a huge number of people who watch her. It's just [like] when you see a channel for fishing shows. You and I might never connect with the guy who's telling us how to tie a fly and where we should go fish, but there are millions of people who do -- and how cool is it that they have somebody that they connect to and actually go and learn something?
How did you go about casting? Did you have specific people in mind?
Keoghan: The casting people did a great job. Everybody weighed in on people they thought would be great on the show. My daughter alerted me to Zach King and his [Vines] a couple of years ago because she was just into watching them. I had never heard of Zach. She said, "Hey, Dad, check this out." And it was a video of Zach jumping into a moving car. ... [Pro Frisbee player] Brodie Smith, my daughter also watched him. There was a lot of cross-referencing going on. I learned a lot through talking to my daughter. I knew that when the names she mentioned were being looked at by casting that those were people her age -- she's a junior in college -- are connecting with. ... I was aware of four of the teams we ended up selecting before we did the casting. I did not know, for example, who [Vine stars] Cameron and Darius were. I didn't know who Blair was. My daughter had mentioned [Vine star] Cole, but I hadn't heard of him.
Was there anyone notable who didn't make the cut or turned it down?
Keoghan: Not that I'm aware of. At the end of the day, the person has to want to be on the show because they're a fan. There's no point in getting someone who's really well-known but has no interest in the show. Then it's stunt-[casting] it. Not that we haven't had people who've never watched the show before, but for a theme like this, it's better to have somebody who has a group of fans where they can passionately share the race with them and say, "Hey, this is a show I watch and I'm gonna be on it. I'd love for you to watch it." We always want people who have a passion for the show.
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I think a lot of purist fans don't like it when you do cast racers who've never seen the show just for the novelty of the person.
Keoghan: I hear you. But where do you draw the line of if someone is known? How much of their life needs to be known before they're deemed a celebrity? Is Blair a celebrity? She does beauty tips. Is that a celebrity status? How would you determine whether someone is a celebrity or not? Tom Cruise is a celebrity. I don't see myself as a celebrity. I'm known, but it's not the same thing. I don't know. Where do you draw the line? "Oh, no, no, we can't touch them because they're a celebrity."
At this point, it's like any amount of exposure.
Keoghan: Yeah, it's like anyone who's ever had any exposure. But if they were the top football player at their college, are they a celebrity? You're never allowed to be in a paper, written about? To me, it's less about that and more about, are you interesting? Would people be interested in watching you? Do you like the show? Will you provide us great content? I would challenge anybody to look at the diversity of our cast over the years and say we haven't painted with a broad brush. It's not like the show going forward is gonna be social media people. It's just this season.
How do they get along? Is there any animosity on the level of Team Texas and the Green Team last season?
Keoghan: It's interesting because they all have something in common. There are some interesting connections. There are some possibilities of some love connections. There are some possible mutual love connections. There's definitely a competitive aspect. There are not so much alliances, but ... teams feel obliged to help other teams. We have some absolutely mind-blowing new locations: Colombia, Georgia and Armenia. ... Armenia is crazy old world. The things we have them doing [are] so exotic and different. The most exciting thing about this season is the fact that we really pull them offline. They operate in the online world. They connect with people every day and we literally pull them away from that and put them in the real world. It's old school. It's going from digital to analog.
How bad were your predictions this time?
Keoghan: They were a little bit better than what I've done, but still not perfect. I don't think I'll ever be perfect. I actually had two of the top three this time, which is very good for me. I messed up a couple. There's one team that gets eliminated early on in the season and I never saw that coming. That really surprised me. You have to throw out all your pre-conceived ideas because sometimes it just does not make sense. There's always some that do pan out the way you think.
Like the hockey players.
Keoghan: Yeah, you figured they would, but they're the only professional sportspeople who've ever won the race. The snowboarders didn't, Chester and Ephraim didn't, the Globetrotters didn't. It's certainly not a given. The most dominant team has been a husband and wife, with Dave and Rachel. Nobody has come close except the Green Team last season and they didn't do it. You would think, at one point, they had the best chance of anybody. There are definitely some surprising results this season if you think some people will perform a certain way.
The Amazing Race 28 premieres Friday at 8/7c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)