Phil Keoghan’s message is clear: his new CBS show, “Tough as Nails,” is not your typical competition series.
“This is about honoring the hard-working people of America … who get up every day, roll up their sleeves and keep the country moving,” says Keoghan, 53. “We’re putting them in the spotlight for a change, rather than an elite athlete. We know how tough it is playing in the NFL or [fighting] in MMA (mixed martial arts) — but it’s also tough putting in a hard day’s work and sometimes living paycheck to paycheck.
“These are the people that really matter.”
“Tough as Nails,” premiering July 8 from 8 to 10 p.m., follows 12 contestants — including a roofer, a farmer, a drywaller, a deputy sheriff, a welder and a fisherman — as they compete against each other in everyday jobs. Those who get voted off have the chance to win additional prizes via team competitions.
Keoghan hand-picked the contestants by traveling nationwide.
“Over the years I’ve been working with CBS, I always believed in working closely with the affiliates,” says Keoghan, best-known for hosting “The Amazing Race,” returning this fall. “It’s the power of being in the heartland of America. I didn’t want to do this casting remotely, so I took a truck with a trailer that folded out into a stage and drove cross-country to different places with lots of foot traffic and let people roll up and tell their stories. It’s the power of local TV and radio getting to the people and getting boots on the ground to capitalize on these opportunities.
“Tough As Nails.”Monty Brinton/CBS
“One of my favorite characters is Lee [Marshall], a 61-year-old roofer,” he says. “This guy is no slouch. He was driving to work in St. Louis when he heard me [talking about the series] on the radio. He stopped, drove over to where I was, near one of the convention centers and ended up getting cast on the show.”
The series was filmed on job sites around the LA area.
“None of the contestants were scared of anything we put in front of them,” Keoghan says. “They were competing at real job sites — farms, factories, workplaces — and there was no obstacle course or reality set. This was not a game but real life. These are people who are not intimidated [by challenges] because that’s what they do every day. Maybe it’s building a fence or maybe it’s loading a truck with gravel or maybe the job is to find car parts and put them into a car.
“We need to have educated professionals … but we also need people to fix things and make them work,” he says. “Do not look down on these people — acknowledge them and celebrate them. They’re worthy contributors to society, and if there was ever a time we need essential workers, it’s right now. These people epitomize what it means to get the job done.”
“Tough as Nails” was filmed pre-pandemic, allowing CBS to move Season 32 of “The Amazing Race” (already in the can) to the fall.
“Unlike ‘Tough as Nails,’ which is an unproven entity, ‘The Amazing Race’ is a go-to, popular show,” says Keoghan. “And in this time, when we’re not producing TV, CBS really needed a show for its fall lineup — and ‘The Amazing Race’ was the blue-chip show it needed.”
He says he has “no idea” when “The Amazing Race” will go back into production.
“If you watch the COVID [cases] spike line that will tell you when we’ll be ready to shoot again,” he says.