'The Amazing Race' Host Phil Keoghan on the Show's Return After COVID Shutdown (Exclusive)

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Phil Keoghan can definitively say that The Amazing Race returning to television is one of the best things to happen to his career. And, after a pandemic-induced global shutdown that impacted production for 19 months, it's easy to see why he and the rest of the crew grew emotional after the show made its highly anticipated return.

The longtime Amazing Race host spoke with ET's Lauren Zima and they discussed why some of the teams didn't return, what adjustments were made due to the COVID-19 pandemic and why the show is more relevant now than ever before.

"It's one of the best things in my career, you know, coming back and seeing everybody smiling," Keoghan said.

But things didn't always look so bright.

It was in February 2020 when Keoghan delivered the somber news that production was shutting down due to the unknown surrounding the virus. The crew had just finished its third leg of season 33 in Glasgow, Scotland. Last week's third episode of season 33 ended with that cliffhanger. The fourth episode airs Wednesday night on CBS, and it shows seven of the original nine teams back in the race. That Keoghan was the one who welcomed them back (they resumed filming last fall) was fitting and also emotional.

"Very emotional," he said. "It was emotional during the stopdown, but not in a good way. [It was] hard to look people in the eyes and tell them that their dream was ending, and we didn't know whether that would continue. Coming back, it was a great feeling to be able to assure everybody we have a really good plan in place."

There are 11 total teams, but only seven of the original teams returned. Not having everyone back is a risk they were keenly aware of considering, as Keoghan put it, this was "the longest pit stop in history."  

"We knew that the longer the pit stop, the more difficult it would be to get everybody back," said Keoghan, who has hosted The Amazing Race since its inception in 2001. "Things change. People change jobs. They move to different cities. Relationships change ... the world changes constantly, and so do relationships. So do circumstances."

As far as what adjustments the show is taking as a result of the pandemic, there are some obvious protocols they'll follow.

"There's nothing overly surprising," the host said. "I mean, the adjustments that you're going to see onscreen are things that we have that have become very familiar to us since March of 2020 that we all live with every day ... don't shake hands of strangers, the way you used to sort of keep distance from people you don't know. That's what was so weird about the first three episodes, was to watch that world that was pre-COVID was kind of jarring."

The biggest change? A private plane to fly them around.

"The plane was definitely an upgrade," he said. "There was something really fun about all of us getting on a plane and not knowing where they were going. And it's sort of like a mystery tour, because you know normally, you're at the airport. We had teams getting on the plane, they didn't know where they're going and sort of excited."

"And to have our own plane, for once," he continued. "A very different experience, but a good one."

Keoghan is adamant that, despite the challenges that lie ahead due to the pandemic, this season will be the same show everyone has grown to love.

"You are going to see us go to other countries," he said. "You are going to see us go to other places like Greece and Portugal. We will be traveling around the world. It is The Amazing Race that you have come to and vicariously enjoy. So, don't expect us to look dramatically different."

After 20 years, Keoghan says The Amazing Race is more relevant now than ever before.

"The world felt like a really big place 20 years ago where we sort of saw ourselves as separate from everybody on the planet," he explained. "Now, the way COVID has moved around the world and we really do understand that we are breathing the same air on this planet. I think it has made the planet feel smaller, and it has made us feel more part of this very small, fragile blue floating out into the middle of space, and maybe it will give all of us a sense of just how important it is to look after [this planet] and celebrate it."

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