At a unique time in the world, celebrating essential workers who keep society up and running seems more appropriate than ever
Combining heartwarming stories of everyday heroes with compelling real-world challenges that redefine what it means to be tough, the competition show created by The Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan and his wife Louise highlights the physical and emotional strength of those who spend their days doing manual labour.
GlobalThe inspiration for Tough as Nails came from the host’s own family. “Both my grandmother and my grandfather never got a chance at a high school education, but were two very bright people, actually the brightest in their class when they were in middle school,” says Keoghan. “I always admired how both of them were able to be such contributors to the community.”
For the native New Zealander, the dismissive attitude towards those without a formal education irked him so much that he became determined to showcase their contributions on a national scale. “There’s lots of shows out there that have honoured people who are really good at singing, dancing, designing, but I felt that maybe there was a place for acknowledging those people who keep a country running,” he says.
What perhaps Keoghan didn’t expect was how difficult to reach some of these everyday heroes would be. “As a matter of fact, some people that we’ve had on the show, it’s incredibly hard to get in touch with, because they are not necessarily that closely connected to technology,” he chuckles. “They go to work every day, at three-in-the-morning, and sometimes they work away in places where you don’t see them.”
Other than its elusive cast, one of the most unique aspects of the show is that the eliminated contestants do not leave the competition, instead remaining to help their team to victory. “The idea is that everybody goes home with something in their pocket,” says Keoghan, about the individual challenges that earn contestants money along the way. “We felt that that was a nice way of not losing these characters that we spend so much time trying to find, that they are suddenly now eliminated in the first or second episode, and we never really get a chance to find out who they are.”
CBSLike in its first season, the competitors are 50 percent male, 50 percent female. “It was very important for us to have men and women competing side by side with each other,” Keoghan explains. “We didn’t want to have a male competition and a female competition. We are looking to redefine what it means to be tough and look for people who have that perfect balance of strength, endurance, agility and mental toughness but also the life skills that people have—people who know how to work smarter, not harder.”
If anyone personifies a book not being judged by its cover, it is last year’s contestant Linda Goodridge, a deputy sheriff who made it all the way to the finale, where she came in fourth. “She is literally half the weight of some of our bigger male contestants, and out-chopped the men that went into the final three. It’s not always just about strength, it’s that ability to draw on an inner power,” says Keoghan. Adds Goodridge: “I’ve learned that my spiritual strength takes me the farthest. I very much understand that my physical strength has an end point, but my spiritual strength has taken me places I never thought I could go.”
Inspired by what they witnessed in the inaugural season, producers filled this second instalment with more workplace challenges. “We try not to build TV sets or obstacle courses,” says Keoghan. “We want to go to real job sites like farms and construction sites. That life-skill aspect is something that we really love leaning in on. Farmers are probably the best with life skills because, one day, they are helping an animal give birth, and then they are fixing a fence and then a hole in the road and then painting a barn and putting a hinge back on a door. We love digging into the life skills.”
While COVID has undoubtedly made the production of the show more difficult, Keoghan has managed to find one bright spot in the pandemic. “If there’s any silver lining, it’s the fact that all of us appreciated more than ever the value of essential workers,” he says. “We scoured the country, looking for the best of the best in their chosen trade to show us what they are made of, [in order] for us to take a little bit more pride in those people we’ve maybe forgotten for a while. Now, I don’t know if we are going to forget them ever again.”
Tough as Nails airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m., Global & CBS