Another season of The Amazing Race is almost in the books.
The 26th installment of CBS' long-running competition show began with 11 teams and now four pairs are left as they compete for the $1 million grand prize. This season, Amazing Race put relationships to the test, literally -- pitting dating couples (six of them already romantically involved) and blind date pairs (five of them) against each other.
"The fans love the show because of the fact that it's always surprising," host Phil Keoghan tells ETonline ahead of tonight's finale. "It's a little bit like gambling, you never really know what's going to happen."
For one thing, Keoghan didn't expect to head into a finale with the majority of the final four remaining teams having met at the starting line.
"The most surprising thing this season was the idea that three out of the four teams racing in the final leg were people who had not known each other for more than three weeks," Keoghan says. "That blows my mind! There's a 75 percent chance the winners will be people who met three weeks ago -- that's crazy."
Before we find out who takes home the crown, Keoghan jumped on the phone with ETonline to chat about the season that was and who he thinks is in the best position to take it all.
You've been with The Amazing Race since the very beginning and you've seen it all. As the season played out, did it progress the way you thought it would have?
No, but I can say that about any season of The Amazing Race. I've never had the ability to pick how the show is going to go and I think that's part of why the show works. It's always been unpredictable and in this case, with the blind date couples, it became even more so because there was a new variable. There wasn't even a track record to look back on with the teams and say, "They've been together a long time, they've been through this or that." I didn't think that the pilot and the air steward [Jeff and Lyda] were going to get [eliminated first]. On paper [they were perfect] -- they were older, they were well-traveled and they were very compatible.
Do you think there's a reason why the blind date couples have succeeded this season?
There's some teams there that are never going to be relationships. I cannot see Jelani and Jenny in a relationship, maybe more like a brother-sister relationship. But again, we've had brother-sister teams do really well on The Amazing Race so they don't have to be in a relationship to do well. It's more about are they compatible and do they like each other? You look at Team SoCal [Laura and Tyler], on paper you would think they would be a couple but we don't know [if that's the case]. If they're hiding something they're doing a very good job but they get on very well. The RX for Love Team [Hayley and Blair] have been through some challenging things this season, now that that the pressure is mounting they're really stepping up.
Which team surpassed your expectations?
Rx for Love I did not see going this far because I thought they were imploding. I thought that they were going to come to a breaking point. They didn't seem to be compatible. Hayley didn't think that Blair was listening to her. Blair seemed to be a little nonchalant about racing together. I thought they wouldn't find a way to get it together but they have. Now they're racing in the final leg. It's extraordinary!
Which team didn't live up to expectations?
It would definitely be the first team, the pilot and his wife. There was a certain part of me that wanted them to do well because they were older. There is a lot of ageism in the world and so I just wanted to see the older couple do well just to wake some of the younger teams up and say, "Listen, we're here." They just had a really bad run. I was disappointed not to see them go further.
As we head into the finale, what can we expect for the final four teams left?
The finish is very big. We end up in Dallas and you can't go to Texas and not be big and bold. That's what Texas is all about. We've got bulls, monster trucks, we have an expansive AT&T football stadium and a big final challenge that is a big ask, let's just say that much. The finish is big and loud, that'd be the best way to describe it. It's a big steak-y, Texas finish.
How satisfying are the winners?
Even with Hayley and Blair, the audience loves the underdog. Hayley and Blair are really the underdog right now -- they've gone through so much and now they're doing really well. The audience is inherently going to have a soft spot for them. They love Team SoCal because they're, of all the teams this race, have been the most compatible of the blind date teams. They've been respectful with each other and gone on really well. Jelani and Jenny are almost like brother and sister. They're both smart -- Jenny is certainly a perfectionist. And Mike and Rochelle really represent middle America -- Truck Stop Love as we call them. They are in what a lot of people call fly-over country, so people are rooting for them. Winning this race would be life-changing for them.
Who do you think is in the best position to win?
You've got a lot of very smart people going into this finale. Mike and Rochelle have the book smarts, Jelani and Jenny are crafty with their legal background and Tyler and Laura are really compatible. I will tell you this, I have never accurately picked the teams who make it into the finals and I've never picked the top three in the exact order. It really is there is a little bit of a Vegas element of rolling the dice because any of these teams could win and one of them gets into the cab and they don't know where something is, misses a turn, misses a light, is a slow driver. You just don't know.
The Amazing Race has already been renewed for season 27. Have you discussed what the next cycle could look like?
Yeah, we've been talking about different ideas and we've been listening to the fans. We're always brainstorming about different things we can do absolutely.
Next season, Survivor is giving power to the fans in determining the cast by an all-fan vote. Could that be something Amazing Race does in the foreseeable future?
It was something that I had suggested a while ago. The Survivor fans were probably saying the same things our fans have been saying, "Let us pick." That was something that we absolutely discussed in the past.
But that's still on the table?
Yeah, we haven't locked in what our idea [for season 27] is going to be but we're always looking for ideas. This whole dating idea of mashing people who don't know each other came from the fans. It's been something the fans have talked about for 10 years so we are listening to our fans.
The Amazing Race crowns a new winner Friday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
Relive the action from this past season of The Amazing Race as the teams felt the pressure in Africa!