Tough As Nails comes to CBS tonight, July 8th at 8:00PM ET/PT. This all-new reality competition show pits some of the hardest working men and women against one another in team and individual competition for a shot at big time prizes. Tough As Nails is hosted and executive produced by Phil Keoghan (The Amazing Race).
CBS‘ Matt Weiss caught up with Keoghan to discuss his new show and the real-life “tough as nails” competitors we will see in tonight’s premiere.
MW: Hey there Phil, how’s it going?
PK: Hey Matt, I’m doing well, I little weird because I don’t think I‘ve been parked in one place for this long.
MW: I can imagine, especially for you. You’re a bit of a nomad so this must really be out of your comfort zone more than even the regular person.
PK: It’s strange to be on the ground this long quite frankly. I did have an idea of how often I was getting out but when you sit in you and then you see a plane and you have this feeling like, ‘am I meant to be on that plane going somewhere right now, did I miss my flight?’ The whole world is being turned upside down, we are at a pivotal time.
MW: Absolutely and its as good a time as any for Tough As Nails, in the last few months a lot of under appreciated workers have been getting a spotlight shone on them and I know that was important to you with this show. What exactly was the inspiration behind getting this show put together?
PK: My working-class family. My family members; they immigrated to New Zealand mostly towards the end of the 19th century. They were farmers and builders and miners, gold miners. My grandfather was a mechanic and my other grandfather was a carpenter. It really came from an appreciation for people who work with their hands, who work in the trades.
I felt like, for long time, it just felt like we were honoring a lot of very pretty fit people, like professional athletes or people ready for the cover of a magazine. I just thought what about the real people in real life who are real tough. Maybe we could do something to honor them.
The really tough Ohio farmer like we have on the show now, Melissa, who’s 26, who’s got the most unbelievable physique and amazing arms from hard work. She doesn’t go to the gym. She just works out on a farm, lifting bags of feed. She gets up every day, does it day in and day out.
Then we have a 62-year-old roofer by the name of Lee, who comes from Saint Louis. He’s got hands the size of dinner plates and has, year after year, been lifting thousands of pounds of roof shingles balancing high upon roofs. He thinks he’s done about 10,000 roofs in his life. I just thought it would be a nice opportunity to honor somebody like that.
MW: The exact kind of people who should have been more appreciated before the pandemic struck, but at least now they are getting some of the recognition they deserve…
PK: Yes, exactly right. We didn’t know, we shot this before the pandemic, we didn’t know that the pandemic was coming, but if there’s any silver lining to this pandemic happening, it is that we have an appreciation for those people who are working through the night, wiping down shelves in supermarkets and who make sure that the power stays on and that our toilets flush and that things function in the world. We’ve managed to acknowledge them, I think on a show like this, at a perfect time.
MW: Right. Also looking at the cast. You really do have people from number of different races a number of different backgrounds. A lot of different people are going to be represented on this show. What else can you tell us about these competitors and how diverse this cast really is?
PK: If you have a look at the at the cast, you’re looking at such a diverse cast. From Callie who is a fisherwoman. A welder, we’ve got Danny Moody. A drywaller, Murphy who’s a veteran. Michelle who works as a gate agent, she’s 62 years old.
One of the things about our shows you cannot judge a book by its cover. Toughness comes in different forms. We’ve got Young who is a firefighter, Lewis who’s a scaffolder, Linda who’s sheriff. We also have Tara who’s in forestry; really people from all walks of life. The cast is so diverse.
One of the big things I love about this show, is that these people represent so many people in America who are working paycheck to paycheck and who are really struggling to get by. Most people are not looking to be the next big singer or looking for the bling and the fame and becoming influencers. Most people are out there every day slogging away to get the job done to make a living to put food on the table for their families.
I think the audience is going to identify with them because they’re going to see themselves. They’re going to see their friends, their families, their relatives. We’re hoping it will resonate that it isn’t just about becoming famous. Sometimes people just really love what they do, they’re passionate about what they do. I feel like the timing right now for all of us to give them some attention is perfect; to know that they’ve kept our country running.
MW: Absolutely. That even translates into the game itself where a lot of shows, as an individual you get kicked off and your game is over. On this show once you’re out the individual competition you still stick around for the team portion. You can still win awards and it just continues that hard work. Can you talk about that twist and how it’s different from other shows that people have seen?
PK: Yeah and I’m so glad you picked up on that because that is a pivotal element of the show. Quite frankly, as interesting as it is to find out who is the toughest of them all, the dynamic between the teams, to me, is the most interesting to watch. These are the people who are used to working on teams. If you work on a construction site, you’re used to that. If you’re on a farm you used to being part of a team. Then there’s always that team dynamic, who’s going to take control, who’s going to take lead, who comes up with the plan. Planning out a job is so important. It’s not just how you do a job. It’s how you plan to do a job. That idea of working smarter not harder. You’re going to see a lot of A types come together on a team trying to figure out a way to work together.
To your point, I’ve always felt like there’s been a lot of wasted potential, good content to come from some shows where good people get cut out early of a competition. You never get to see them flourish, they never have any redemption. As you said, there’s two competitions on the show, we’re trying to find the toughest of them all, but then we also have this team competition.
Even if someone gets cut from the individual competition they still compete in the team competitions. There’s 12 people in two teams of six going against each other. They become like a family and then they earn money with their team. They might have someone who’s really strong in the individual competition on their team that can help them win money, then they become a contributor in that team. At the end of the day nobody on the show goes home without money in their pocket. Everybody gets something.
MW: Not only does this show have an amazing message, but I think it’s show that can give people a much needed boost right now in morale. Can you talk about that role that the show is going to play for people who are looking for something to feel good when they turn on the TV?
PK: Absolutely, we’re in an unprecedented situation right now where there’s a lot of television just stopped being made because of the challenges of working with around COVID-19. We were just so lucky to have got this shot before the pandemic. I’m really proud of the team. My wife and producing partner, and I, we’ve managed to continue to work together because we are together. The rest of our production is scattered out all over the place working remotely.
I’m just so proud that we’ve pulled this together, that we do have something fresh and original to offer viewers. There’s never any guarantee when you do any show that it’s going to work, that it’s going to resonate, but I’m really hoping that people will tune in. If they tune in, I think they will fall in love with these characters and want to stick with us to watch to the end to see what happens.
We have a real focus on the show on character, as exciting as the challenges are, we really are focused on getting to know them. You’re going to fall in love with these characters. They stay all the way to the end, everybody is there all the way to the end, it does mean that you really get to know them. There’s an added dimension that is missing in other shows.
We don’t have to rush to get to know the contestants who get eliminated early, we have the whole series to really arc their characters and to really see who they are. I’m hoping that ultimately that’s what people tune into the show for. They go, ‘I want to see these people do well’ at a time when we need to be celebrating these people.
MW: Fantastic, well I know I’ll be tuning into the premiere for sure.
PK: Awesome, we’re going to be launching with a 2-hour premiere. We just found that out which is great. We’ll have the first episode which will be all about casting and selecting the characters and sorting out the two different teams. Then it’ll roll right into the second episode which is where we get into the first team challenge and where we would get into the first individual challenge.
MW: Well Phil it’s always a pleasure to talk to you and all the best moving forward, stay safe man!
PK: Appreciate your time. Thank you!
Tune into Tough As Nails tonight at 8:00PM ET/PT, only on CBS and streaming on CBS All Access. Check your local listings for more information.