Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Phil Keoghan, co-executive producer and host of CBS series The Amazing Race. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: I’m being watched right now. This is Tim Ferriss. Welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss Show. I’m going to whisper right now and just assume that all of you have ASMR, fetish or preference. And if you don’t know what ASMR is, you should look it up. There’s a huge community on Reddit, for instance. It stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, and that’s why I’m also going to bite this piece of shortbread right now. I’m whispering because I’m in a Lufthansa lounge at JFK. That one is free Lufthansa. Call me. And I can’t be my usual boisterous self. But, as per always on the Tim Ferriss Show, it’s my job to deconstruct world class performers.
People who are very good at what they do, people who have interesting stories and very specific tactics or recommendations that you can implement in your life. Let me finish that shortbread. And my guest today, it’s very appropriate that I should be in the airport because he travels more than any human being I have ever met.
I’ve seen videos of him shaving in airport and airplane bathrooms, for instance. Phil Keoghan. That’s K-E-O-G-H-A-N. You can say hello on the Twitters @philkeoghan. He has worked in television for almost 30 years on more than 1,000 program episodes in more than 100 countries. His work has earned him numerous awards, including 10 prime time Emmy Awards. He is perhaps best known as the co-executive producer and host of the perennial favorite CBS series The Amazing Race currently in its 29th season.
But there’s a lot more to Phil’s story than you might know of or expect, including unbelievable bucket lists and how important they are to how his life has been run and improved and many of the decisions that he’s made, a near death experience, probably more than one, and much more.
He is very good at proactively creating adventures for himself, and he’s also a very impressive athlete on multiple levels. For instance, in 2013, he decided to retrace the 1928 Tour de France riding an original vintage bicycle with no gears that weighs about I would say at least twice as much as modern bikes to tell the forgotten underdog story of the first English speaking team to take on the toughest sporting event on earth. He captured this entire experience and turned it into a brand new film documentary called Le Ride, a gorgeous doc and the first to be shot on the Sony F55 camera in 4K, which is the equivalent of super 35 mm film.
And you can check that out at philkeoghanleride.com. And we will talk a lot more about that. But there are many things to take away from this conversation, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. So, as I always say, without further ado, here is Phil Keoghan.
Phil, welcome to the show.
Phil Keoghan: Thank you for having me.
Tim Ferriss: I am excited to have you hear in Austin.
Phil Keoghan: Rainy Austin.
Tim Ferriss: Rainy Austin, sit across the table.
Phil Keoghan: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: And to talk about your life and experiences. I don’t even know where to start. And there are a few options, and I think I’m going to go with humor first.
Phil Keoghan: Okay.
Tim Ferriss: And I was hoping you could tell us a little bit, and then, we’ll spread out in both directions chronologically, about Milli Vanilli and dreadlock twirling.
Phil Keoghan: Oh, yeah, wow. Milli Vanilli. So, I started in television when I was really young like 18. And I really wanted to be a cinematographer and tell stories with a camera, be in television. I was not popular with my family for making that choice because I wanted to go straight out of high school into working in television. And there were no degrees you could get in broadcasting or communications degrees.
And so, against my family’s better wishes, I went and took this job, it was hard to get, where I was a television assistant. And then, miraculously that led from me being a camera assistant to then being in front of a camera. And I guess I was 20, and I was working on daily live show. It was called 345 Live. That’s how the thing went, 345 Live because it was on at 3:45, and it was live. And so, anybody who was anybody who came to New Zealand came on this show, 345 Live Monday to Friday. And so, Milli Vanilli make their way to New Zealand, and this is when they had won the Grammy for best new artist.
There were those great songs, Blame it on the Rain; I’m trying to think of what the other songs were. But anyway, they came in, and they were beautifully dressed, and they looked like male models. The dreads were all beautifully kept.
And they wouldn’t sit down on the chair. And the manager was talking to them, and there was no sort of like lead up to the chat. They just sort of were off on one side talking amongst themselves. And then, we were about to go 345 Live, and then, they sat down at the last minute and were on the show live.
Tim Ferriss: Why didn’t they sit down?
Phil Keoghan: They didn’t want to crease their pants is what I suspected because the pants had these beautiful creases in them. And, like I said, they were beautifully dressed, a lot of attention to detail. And so, they finally sat down. And then, in the middle of the interview, I’m looking across. I think it was Ed Fabrese because it was Robin Fabrese, and I noticed that the dreadlock is detached from his head while he’s twirling it. And I was like – I’m figuring that this is – I’m looking to see whether it was noticeable on the monitor. And then, I sort of turn around, and I see behind me the manager is like gesturing to them to tell them that the dreadlock at become detached.
And now, I mean, I should have just gone with it. But I don’t think they really had a sense of humor. I don’t think they would have thought that was funny. They were way too concerned with how they looked. It would have been very off putting.
Tim Ferriss: How many segments, if you had to guess, in total, do you think you’ve done of television of any show?
Phil Keoghan: Impossible. I don’t know.
Tim Ferriss: Hundreds, thousands?
Phil Keoghan: Thousands, yeah. I’m going to be 50 this year. I started in front of a camera at 19. So, what is that, 31 years? I don’t know. I did a lot of live television, so, I did this show, 345 Live, for a year. So, there were 200 and something live shows. And then, I did a daily live show called Breakfast Time in the early ‘90s.
Tom Bergeron was the host, and then, there were a number of us who were out on the road doing, basically, anything we wanted to do. They gave us a satellite truck, a camera operator, and a production assistant, and we could go anywhere in America to do five stories from anywhere in America. And we would go every day live, and we’d have to do two stories from that place live. Everything from hand feeding sharks live to changing a light bulb on the Verrazano Bridge live to milking spiders to being in a coal mine, whatever it was. And so, that was over the period of four and a bit years. That would have been close to 800 shows.
Tim Ferriss: And how old were you at the time when you did that?
Phil Keoghan: I was 24, I think, 24 or 25.
Tim Ferriss: So, before we go into the near future from Milli Vanilli –
Phil Keoghan: The near future, I like that. Yeah, half my life ago.
Tim Ferriss: In the grand scheme of the universe, the blinking of a firefly back to age 19.
Phil Keoghan: Right.
Tim Ferriss: And you had an experience that it seems has framed a lot of what came afterward. And I was hoping you could describe what happened.
Phil Keoghan: Yeah. So, when you’re 19, most 19-year-olds, they don’t think they’re going to die. I certainly didn’t think I was going to die. I was invincible. We used to do ridiculous things and think that we were somehow protected by the speed Gods or whatever it was. And so, we did things that we probably shouldn’t have done. And now, looking back on it, I’m just lucky to have got to this point in my life, I think. But putting ski bindings in skis and strapping them to a roof rack of a car, and then, going into a tuck and seeing how fast we could drive the car as fast as we possibly could. Anyway, I was doing a story about a 22,000 ton shipwreck that had sunk in New Zealand.
And it was down about 120 feet underwater, and it was on its starboard side. And 22,000 tons is as big as a cruise liner that you see going around at the ports around the world and big, really big.
Tim Ferriss: And 120 feet, for people who have never done any scuba diving, unless you have special equipment, that’s not a lot of bottom time.
Phil Keoghan: Exactly. So, most recreational divers get certified to dive to about 60 feet. The best stuff that you see underwater is, generally, in the first 30 feet because, once you get past 30 feet, the color changes. You lose all the reds, and everything becomes very blue. So, I always say to people you don’t need to go deep, unless you’re going onto a wreck or something, some real reason to go deep. The only reason to go deep is if it is a wreck. You can get great diving in 10 or 15 feet of water with the coral close the surface. The colors are brighter and so on.
But this wreck was deep. And as you said, the deeper you are, the faster you chew threw air, and you eat up air. And that affects how long you can stay down. And the longer you’re down deep, the more nitrogen you get in your blood. And so, there’s a real science to diving. And you have to be super careful. Are you a diver?
Tim Ferriss: I am.
Phil Keoghan: Yeah. So, you understand that.
Tim Ferriss: I’ve seen people get nitrogen narcosis at exactly 120 feet. I saw a guy start to – he tried to take off all of his gear and just drop it in a small group. And he was stopped by the dive master.
Phil Keoghan: That was the guy that worked at Chippendale’s. I know the guy.
Tim Ferriss: No, this is a different guy.
Phil Keoghan: No, a different guy, okay. But I’ve seen the same thing. They take the regulator out, and they start having conversations with fish. It’s not a good idea.
Tim Ferriss: No.
Phil Keoghan: It’s getting narked.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Phil Keoghan: Yeah, so, that’s all the more reason to get properly certified. So, I was with some very experienced divers, way more experienced than me, and they were doing the salvage. And we were going to be the first people to shoot on the ship, get to go inside the ship and explore it.
And the cameraman that I was with was also very experienced. But because there was so much silt inside the boat, and there was a current, as well, rolling through the boat – in those says, we were shooting on film. It’s not like today where you can go down with a great Go Pro and some lights, and you can film for a couple of hours. We had a 2.5 minute roll of film in a 100 foot daylight spool roll that was in a little housing inside the – so, literally, that’s the only amount of footage we had to shoot on film. That’s how long I go back. So, the plan was that we would go into the ballroom of this ship, a big, big ballroom.
And then, the crew would come in from another door, and we would meet in the middle so that we didn’t stir up all the silt going in the same entrances. We would swim towards each other. They’d get us coming towards them. So, we go down, and what I know now is, if you go into a wreck, you tie a line on the outside of the wreck so that you have something to follow out if something goes wrong.
These guys were so familiar with the wreck and so experienced and knew the place so well, they didn’t tie a line on. And I just sort of followed them in not knowing that that was sort of what you should do. And the other rule with diving is you never leave your dive buddy. So, I’m following this guy, and I was too scared to tell him because I was trying to be a man that I’m really claustrophobic. So, I go in this little doorway, and it would have been like imagine a small window like 2 x 3. We go through this little porthole. And then, we start weaving our way through the ship.
And as we’re going deeper and deeper and deeper into the shipwreck, I’m completely disoriented. I have no idea where I am.
Tim Ferriss: My hand sweats just listening to the description.
Phil Keoghan: Oh, yeah. And I started to breathe like breathe. But every time I sort of was at the point of tapping him like I’ve got to get to get out of here, I feel panicky, he just kept disappearing deeper and deeper and deeper in another corner, another corner.
And he was moving quickly because he’s used to being in this wreck. They’re doing the salvage on this thing. So, finally, we come into an opening, and then, he shines the light around, and there’s this huge ballroom. Now, the ship is on its starboard side, on its right side. So, all of the tables on the ship are all bolted to the floor. So, imagine the tables on a right angle to us. And then, he gestures to me to hold onto the table. And then, he told me, on the surface, we were going to switch out the lights to save battery power because it’s cold. And now, we don’t have a lot of – and we’ve got 7 ml wetsuits on.
It’s pretty cold. And you can feel kind of the current pushing through the ship. And that’s why we were holding onto the table so we didn’t drift through the room. And, now, we’re looking ahead and he sort of points at me and looks ahead and says that’s where the crew is going to come out.
And I knew that that’s where they were going to come out. So, I was like, okay. So, we’re waiting with the lights off in the dark, and I’m processing all of this and starting to try to slow my breathing down and stay calm. It’s okay. You’re with an expert. Everything is good. And after what seemed like minutes, I wanted to turn my light on, but I also didn’t want to do it because I thought he’ll think I’m a wimp like why am I turning my – I just wanted to turn my light on to see where I was like to have some sense of where I was. He flicks his light on like in Halloween when you take your light, and you put it under your chin, and you make yourself look scary.
That’s all I remember. The light went on. He’s pointing from his chin looking up. He looks scary. Then, he gestures me with his hand, puts it out in front of me like wait. Then, he points at my hands on the table and gestures for me to hold onto the table. And then, boom, he just disappears around a corner. And I don’t have my light on. And he’s got his light on. And the light disappears. And he’s gone. Well, in that moment, I’m like why is he leaving?
Why did he just leave? So, in my haste to find my light, I start flailing around, let go of the table, and I feel myself drifting away from where the table is and moving, drifting into the ballroom. And I just went into a mad panic. And I couldn’t find my light. By the time I found my light, I’d silted up all the water around me. I couldn’t see anything. And now, I don’t know where the table was that I was meant to hold onto. And I’m looking ahead. I can’t see any lights. I can’t see him. And I started to breathe really, really fast. And now, you’re a diver, you understand this.
But, when you dive, and for anybody who has never had a regulator in your mouth, if you breathe too quickly; there’s a little diaphragm that allows for exhalation and inhalation in the regulator that you put in your mouth to suck in air. If you go too fast, the diaphragm can’t keep up with the speed of inhalation and exhalation. And then, you start to suck water. So, I started taking in little bits of water.
And I’m beating the valve and just panicking like mad, mad panic. And I thought I have to get out of here. And all you want to do is just get out. But I don’t know how to get out. I don’t know where up and down is. The bubbles don’t go up. When the ship is on its side like that, and you’re deep down, they hit the walls, and then, they run up the walls. They follow weird paths. And I thought I have no idea where I am right now. I can’t even see where the table is and panicking, panicking. And I knew that someone had died in there.
Someone had gone in there and got disconnected from a group, and he had died and drifted off into the ship and died. I also knew that one of the engineers never made it out when the ship sank in the first place.
Tim Ferriss: And just to set the stage also, for people listening, I remember when I did a dive at the Blue Hole in Belize, which is about 120 feet, this is when this guy got narked, it takes so long to get down because you’re equalizing. By the time you get down, at least we were told that the time with the gear we had, you have eight minutes.
So, all of this is happening –
Phil Keoghan: Yeah, very quickly.
Tim Ferriss: Very quickly.
Phil Keoghan: Very quickly. And we weren’t on nitrox. Nitrox, as you know, is a mixed gas that you can get where it has more oxygen and less nitrogen, so, it increases your bottom time. So, this is pre nitrox days. And so, yes, you’re absolutely right, we had a very limited window, which is why he must have gone off to find the crew because he realized we were eating up a lot of time. And where were they? Where were the crew? Well, I don’t remember exactly how I got from there to the boat, but this guy, obviously, came back to get me.
And really, it’s all a blur between panicking, mad panic, eyes wide like saucers to being on the boat to looking up into the sky and seeing the most amazing blue I’d ever seen in my life. It just looked like totally surreal. And then, I’m lying on the ground breathing.
And I look up, and all of these faces are looking down like “Phil, are you good, are you good?” And I’m like, “Yeah, yeah. I’m good, I’m good.” Trying to play like nothing happened, but my heart is pounding like pounding. And I was so – the feeling of euphoria, the relief of being alive to know that I was alive was like nothing I’d ever experienced. And it really was all this stuff – it was as if my IQ went up 25 points in that moment because I was like how dumb were you that you thought you were going to live forever.
How dumb were you that you’ve been doing all of these dumb things in your life, and you really have no purpose in life? And I started to think about, this is all happening while I’m having these conversations with them, but I’m thinking, man, I love girls.
And I haven’t even really explored that whole world.
Tim Ferriss: That’s like the second or third thing that comes up.
Phil Keoghan: It was actually right up there. I’m in my sexual prime, come on. It was right up there. I don’t want to say it was the first thing because I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me. But it was up there. And I was like, damn, you’ve got a lot to do with your life. But there were all of these things that came to me, and a lot of them were very selfish. I was 19 years old. So, I got myself together, and I wanted to find a piece of paper and a pen. And I just wrote down just everything that I felt like I had all of the time in the world to do and that I had to get down on a piece of paper to get out to go, okay, this is not a dress rehearsal.
You can die. You will die. You don’t know how long you’ve got before you die. You better figure out what you’re doing with your life, and you better get on with it straight away. And one of the first things on my list was go back in the shipwreck.
Seriously, because I thought I cannot walk away from this fear. I was so petrified of what had happened. And I decided I would explain to the diver that I found it challenging. He knew that.
Tim Ferriss: Challenging.
Phil Keoghan: But I said it’s kind of like falling off a horse. I really felt like I’ve got to get back on. I have to go back because if I let this fear get on top of me –
Tim Ferriss: This time with some string or some rope.
Phil Keoghan: Well, I didn’t actually go back with string because I didn’t have time to do the lesson about the string. But I went back by disclosing a little bit more of my fear to the other diver, and I was more honest. And then, when he knew that, and we had to get this thing shot, he was, obviously, more aware of – he thought I was so – because I was so gung-ho. He didn’t have any indication that there was any fear in me at all. But then, I said, “Listen, man, I really freaked out.” And he goes, “Oh, no kidding.” And I said, “But I need to go back. We’ve got to go back and do this.”
And we went back, and we did it, and we shot it. And that was the start. That was the first thing I ticked off my list.
Tim Ferriss: Question for you. So, when you decided to go back down, as you’re descending and getting ready to go through that tiny opening, what was the self talk? I mean, it’s a long time ago, but what is your self talk like in a moment like that?
Phil Keoghan: Well, it’s something that I’ve used a lot since then, which was instead of internalizing everything, I looked out. And what I realized was that this guy was super experienced and had been down on that shipwreck many times and come out of there successfully many times. And if I followed his procedure, and if I observed him being an expert doing something and looked out at that rather than turning it back into my own head about what I didn’t know and what I couldn’t do that I was in good hands.
So, ever since that moment, in all of the crazy things that I’ve done, I’ve taken a tremendous amount of comfort in being surrounded by people who I know are better than me at doing something, who have tremendous expertise at whatever they’re doing, and to really observe them in that moment when they are using expertise that has taken possibly at least 10,000 hours to get to. And to look at it in a way like, wow, how cool is that. I’m with this person, man or woman, whoever it is, that is allowing me and giving me the privilege to be with them to do what they do so well. And they’re a specialist. And they’re so good.
Tim Ferriss: And so, you would be explicitly reminding yourself of all of these things if you’re going into a situation that is provoking nerves and fear, is that the voice inside the head?
Phil Keoghan: Yeah. It is. I made up a quote that I share with a lot of people, which is focus on what you do have and what you can do instead of what you don’t have and what you can’t do.
And I really am a big believer in practicing to change mindset. So, my daughter who is 21, I say to her, “Elle, you’re young. You have this amazing, pliable brain. If you practice being an optimist now at this young age, by the time you’re my age, with 10,000 hours of practicing being an optimist, you’re going to be an amazing optimist.” If you practice focusing on what you do have and what you can do as opposed to what you don’t have and what you can’t, you’re going to be so good at using what’s around you and focusing on what you can do with that the negative stuff will be there, but it’s going to be squashed by this positive energy that you have.
And I say the last thing you want to do is get to my age and be somebody who is so practiced at making excuses, and so practiced at being a pessimist that it’s hard to make the turn.
You don’t want to be 50 trying to make a turn being an expert as a pessimist. And we’ve all met them.
Tim Ferriss: Sure.
Phil Keoghan: And you meet a pessimist or somebody who is great at excuses, sometimes, I will hear excuses, and I will laugh out loud. And the person will look at me like what are you laughing at. And I’m like, dude, you are unbelievably good at excuses.
Tim Ferriss: Expert, black belt.
Phil Keoghan: You are a black belt in excuses. And I never think it’s too late to change. I’m just saying that it’s harder to change because I really believe the mind is like a sponge. And it’s harder and harder to keep that sponge moist as you get older.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Phil Keoghan: But I really started to practice that. So, all of my life, I’ve tried to put myself around people and I’ve gravitated towards people who see that things are possible and that anything is possible.
And to me, it’s like magic. I feel like I’m around magicians who make things happen out of nothing. And I feel very honored that, with all of the stuff that I’ve done in my life, I’ve met so many of these people.
Tim Ferriss: I want to talk about optimism and learning or teaching optimism because what you were just saying reminded me of a conversation I had with a close friend of mine. He’s not much older, but a bit older. He has a number of kids. And I asked him, when we were hiking once, what would your advice be to a first time parent. And he said, “Really, it’s only two things.” And he said, “No. 1, your kids don’t owe you anything because you chose to have them.”
Phil Keoghan: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: No. 1. “And No. 2 is teach your kids to be optimists.” And he said, “If you teach them to be optimists, they can handle almost everything else.”
Phil Keoghan: That’s great advice, by the way, and I totally agree with it.
Tim Ferriss: How would you or how do you help to cultivate optimism in your daughter or in other people? What types of patterns would you interrupt, or what types of things would you have them do? Does anything come to mind?
Phil Keoghan: Yeah. I think going to those two points that you mentioned, practice optimism. So, one of the rules that we had in our house with my daughter is, and we all had to correct each other from time to time, we had this game where nobody was allowed to say I can’t. We took I can’t out of the vocabulary in our house. And we all did it. But we all got better and better at not doing it. And I wanted my daughter to practice that. And she’s say, “Well, dad, there’s just certain things I can’t do.” And I go, “Yeah, but you don’t want to be saying or perpetuating the idea that you can’t do something.”
So, find another way of saying that you find something challenging or that it’s difficult without saying I can’t because we don’t know what we are truly capable of.
We have no idea what our full potential is, which is the exciting part of living. We have no idea where we’re going to end up or how we’re going to get there. So, if you take that out, and you say I find this really challenging, is there a way that you can help me do this, you can identify something that you find really challenging. But take I can’t out of your vernacular, and you’ll be in a much more positive frame of mind. With my daughter, and I think with kids when they’re young, just allow them to dream without putting your own limitations on what it is they think they can do or they say they want to do.
I remember my daughter came up to me when she was about 9 – I would always read to her every night. That was my thing. I would read some piece of a book to her so we had that time together.
Tim Ferriss: Any favorite books, do you remember?
Phil Keoghan: Well, we read all of the Harry Potter books together. I read every page to her.
My daughter is quite a sharp cookie, and sometimes, I’d be tired, and I’d skip a few pages in the books, but she’d remember every single page, and she’d go, “Dad.” And I’d go, “What?” And she’d go, “You skipped a part, didn’t you?” To me, it was just about that one on one time where we were together, and I looked forward to it. And the other rule I had was if my daughter ever asked me to do something, no matter what I was doing, no matter even if I was on a deadline, if she said dad, can we go play with the dog, kick a football, play volleyball, will you read to me that I would always say yes. That was the rule that I had, which I really value.
Tim Ferriss: What would you say, in that case, in moments when – you are a very, very busy guy. You have a lot going on. You’ve done so much. Let’s just say, hypothetically, and I’m sure there were these times that you are under a crunch deadline, there are people maybe metaphorically yelling and screaming because they want something by a certain time.
And your daughter comes up to you and asks you for something. And I’m not going to ask this for everything, but I’m very curious. What would you say to yourself or what was the way that you would ensure that you said yes? Does that make sense? Aside from practice, of course, it takes practice.
Phil Keoghan: Well, I think it’s the idea that, in life, life is a series of moments. And what will you remember at the end of your life? When you take your last breath, what’s the last thought you’re going to have as you die? What is that? Is it some moment with somebody? Is it some regret? You want to die, I think, in peace and with something special. And so, those moments where your kid asks you to do something, they’re limited when you have them. It’s a gift, right? The whole idea that you have a child, you never get that back. The deadline thing, there were many times where I put what I was doing on hold and spent the time with her.
And then, it cost me into the night trying to make up the time.
But I can’t even remember what it was I was trying to get done. But I do remember the moments with her. So, in the long term, those are the moments that you remember. I couldn’t tell you what deadlines I was rushing to get done that I theoretically sacrificed to go spend time with my daughter. So, I said to a lot of people, I was forced into creating this life list and writing this book and trying to help other people with my philosophy or no opportunity wasted because I had this experience. A lot of people don’t have that experience. And I say to them, if you were to take your last breath tomorrow at 3:00, what do you think would be the last thing in your mind?
I kind of get them to just project to that. And it could be something as simple as I always wanted to write a book. I always wanted to start my own business. I always wanted to play the guitar. Or I always wanted to spend one on one time with my dad. Or I’d wished that I repaired that relationship with my brother because we haven’t spoken.
Tim Ferriss: Is that a good way to start such a list? I always wanted to …
Phil Keoghan: Yeah. I really think, when you put something down on paper, it sounds so simple, it’s like a pen and a piece of paper, just write down something, I really believe that it’s not a small thing.
That’s almost like a contract that you’ve made with yourself just putting it down. The other thing I say to people is don’t just put it down. But write it down and then, put it on a sticky, and put it everywhere where you go where you have little moments when you’re brushing your teeth or when you go out to get your keys from the garage, and you put the sticker next to the keys. Places and wall spaces that you repeatedly hit on the refrigerator, places that your mind goes to every single day around the house, in the car, wherever it is. Little reminders of why am I not doing that?
Tim Ferriss: So, I want to touch on a couple of things you said. The first is a recommendation for people who are listening because it had a huge impact on me, which is an article called the Tail End written by someone named Tim Urban who has a site called Wait but Why, which is very intelligently written.
And this was recommended to me by a friend, Matt Mullenweg who has also been on the podcast. And coincidentally, he recommended it to me I want to say a few months before his father unexpectedly passed away. And the point of the article, and I’m not going to do it justice, everyone should read it, was that it was, effectively, directed at kids. Kids who are now adults. And it was an encouragement to spend more time with your parents because it said, effectively, by the time you leave high school and leave home to go to college, you’ve spent 80 percent of the total hours you will ever spend with your parents before they die.
Now, you can look at it the other way around. As a parent, by the time your kids leave high school or leave home, you will have spent or had the opportunity to spend 80 percent of the hours you’re ever going to spend with them together. So, that type of framing makes it easier to push off the deadline and sacrifice a little bit of sleep. So, that article had and continues to have a big impact on me.
The second was more of a question, I suppose, about the I can’t. And I really think that our words, our language reflects our thinking in a very important way.
Phil Keoghan: I totally agree.
Tim Ferriss: So, word choice has, over time, become more and more important to me. And I’ve tried to fix certain ticks. For instance, this is going somewhere, for a long time, I realized I was very lazy with adverbs, and I used pretty too much. That’s pretty good. That’s pretty smart. That’s pretty interesting. It was such a garbage word that I used as filler. So, I forced myself to say fucking after pretty every time I said it. So, I’d have to say that’s pretty fucking interesting. That’s pretty fucking difficult to pattern interrupt because I would embarrass myself in mixed company. And that is how, ultimately, I ended up stopping using this adverb at least as much as I used to.
And I’ve tried to help other people who have ticks like um or like to do something similar. And there are a couple of different approaches. What would you say if you caught your daughter saying I can’t? Would you just raise a finger? Or what was the button that you would push?
Phil Keoghan: Well, it got to a point where she would catch me, too, because I would say it.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Phil Keoghan: And so, it would just be we would just call each other out. It was more that we were – she became hyperaware of it because we pointed it out to each other. And I became hyperaware of the times that I would sometimes say it, too. Funny you should say about word choices. One of the first shows that I ever worked on was called That’s Fairly Interesting.
Tim Ferriss: So, I wanted to talk about this, yeah.
Phil Keoghan: Okay. So, this speaks to the New Zealand psyche. So, in America, we watched a show in America called That’s Incredible. Well, John, that was incredible. In New Zealand, there was a tendency for high achievers to understand their achievements.
So, we, in New Zealand, could not have said that’s amazing. We had to say, in a New Zealand accent, it would be oh, yeah, that’s fairly interesting. And the other thing we would say is some New Zealander could do something that was ground breaking, but in New Zealand, because it was a New Zealander who had maybe achieved this ground breaking idea, we would say, oh, that’s pretty good. Or they’d say that’s pretty good for a New Zealander.
And I did an interview with Peter Jackson, and he said the number of times that a studio would call is agent panicking about something that Peter Jackson was making because they’d get on the phone with Peter Jackson, and they’d say how’s it going? How’s the cut going on the film? And Peter would say, “Oh, yeah, it’s pretty good. It’s coming together and looking pretty good.”
And all of the executives back in LA would start panicking because they’d be like he sounds less than enthused that this is going to work. So, then, he’d get off the phone, and then, his agent would call him. “Peter, Peter, what’s wrong? Is there a problem with the production?” And Peter goes, “No, it’s fine, why?” And he goes, “They’re panicking. They didn’t think you sounded very excited about what’s going on.” But that’s a huge part of our psyche is understating what you’re doing.
Tim Ferriss: Now, I’d love for you to elaborate on why that’s the case. So, one of my closest friends is a Kiwi. And he loves New Zealand, but he has mixed feelings because he talks a lot about tall poppy syndrome. Could you maybe explain what that is?
Phil Keoghan: That’s one of my favorite topics of conversation. If you imagine a field full of poppies, they’re all beautifully uniformed. And all of the poppies in the field are at the same exact height. And you look out, and it’s so comfortable to look at because every single poppy is within a millimeter of each other.
And it just looks so lovely and uniformed. And then, you cast your eye over to the other side of the field and you see, oh, my goodness, there’s a poppy sticking up. And it’s taller than all of the other poppies. What could that possibly be? Oh, that’s some guy showing off. He thinks he’s better than all of the other poppies in the field, and he’s sticking up there showing off. Well, we’ll fix that. Get a pair of scissors, and you cut that tall poppy down. And now, everything is beautiful and uniformed again, and we don’t have to worry about that tall poppy, do we? So, it’s part of our psyche to keep everybody like the common man.
So, the New Zealand rugby team, they’re called the All Blacks. We wear an all black uniform. We have a silver fern on the uniform. The most successful sports team in sports history.
Tim Ferriss: And if people haven’t seen the haka, they need to watch the haka.
Phil Keoghan: Just Google that. Just go New Zealand All Black rugby team haka.
Tim Ferriss: H-A-K-A?
Phil Keoghan: Haka, it’s a Maori name, which is it’s a Maori war dance. And now, a lot of American football teams have actually copied it as a way of getting psyched up. But when the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori people, before going to war, they would get themselves psyched up doing this haka. And it involves a lot of different moves and slapping themselves and, basically, getting themselves hyped and ready to go. And now, we use it as a way to get hyped before our rugby games. And if you see this, it’s pretty powerful. So, the All Blacks have a winning percentage I think of over 75 percent in the last 100 years.
Very rarely do we lose. But, if you speak to any of them, and they’ve been the world champions, the only rugby team in the world to be world champions three times, only rugby team in the world to win back to back championships, if you talk to an All Black, and you go wow, you guys are amazing.
You’re incredible players. You’re the best. An All Black or a New Zealander who is a high achiever will tend to undersell and go it was really nothing. We just went in and did our thing. And we just happened to beat the other team. But they played really well, the other team. Yeah, but you beat them 85 to 0. Well, yeah, but we just had a good day. Hats off to the other team. And that’s what you do. You undersell, and it’s part of our psyche to be just like everybody. Now, it’s hugely endearing in one way because New Zealanders, and I feel like I’m one of these people where I perform better when the expectations for me are lower than when people expect a lot from me.
I don’t cope with that very well. When I have to go do a speech, I do a lot of speeches, when everybody’s expectation of my speech is that I’m going to hit it out of the park, and it’s going to be really great, it makes me nervous because I feel like, okay, you feel like I’m meant to hit this mark.
Where do I go from there? I don’t know where to go from there. I have to hit it out of the park twice? I don’t know. What do I do?
Tim Ferriss: Just to get a passing grade, right.
Phil Keoghan: Exactly. Whereas if peoples’ expectations are we think Phil would do a good job and it should be good. If their expectations are there, then, I love that space that’s left for me to go punch above that and go hit it out of the park because there’s nothing better when you exceed peoples’ expectations. So, I think New Zealanders, they always try to underplay where they’re at so that they can exceed expectations. So, what you find with a lot of New Zealanders is they’re incredibly hard working. They’ll tend to undersell themselves, and they tend to surprise. They tend to come out of nowhere and just like I had no idea you could do that.
And so, I’ve just finished working on a project for the Smithsonian Channel where I talked to a bunch of New Zealanders about inventiveness because, if there’s one word I would use to describe what Kiwis are, they’re incredibly resourceful and inventive. We’ve invented a lot of amazing things. And we find ways of doing things in new and different ways because we’re kind of forced to think. And I love that about our culture. But, sometimes, when we come to an environment like in America, we’re a little reluctant to put our hand up and go I got this. And it’s other people who sometimes make a lot of noise, maybe don’t have the same skills, but they’re much better at making a lot of noise.
Tim Ferriss: Just because this is one of my favorite topics – topics isn’t the right word for it. One of my favorite things to observe is Kiwis and Aussies going after each other.
Phil Keoghan: Oh, yeah, that’s just –
Tim Ferriss: Now, what are the most common go to insults that Aussies use against Kiwis and vice versa?
Phil Keoghan: Well, all sheep jokes go across the Tasman, right? A lot of people don’t realize that it’s a three hour flight between New Zealand and Australia. We still have people calling up New Zealand tourism going how long does it take to drive across the bridge from New Zealand to Australia. And you think I’m joking.
Tim Ferriss: That’s amazing.
Phil Keoghan: No, no. Because Sydney and Auckland both have bridges that look quite similar. And they think that, if you drive over the bridge, in Sydney or in Auckland, that’s what’s on the other side. So, they’re like, hold on a second –
Tim Ferriss: It makes me feel a lot better about the US now.
Phil Keoghan: Three hours? What are you talking about? So, we’re like their little brother. So, we’re 4 million people. They are 20 something million people. So, we’ve always felt like they’re the big brother that wants to beat us up, but we’re going to prove ourselves to the big brother. So, yes, any sheep joke, we don’t need to go into the details.
Tim Ferriss: It’s a sexual innuendo. Oh, come on. This isn’t family programming. What’s one good one?
Phil Keoghan: Well, the one that gets told a lot is why do Australians make love to fish with their gum boots on? So, the hind legs of the sheep can be held in the gum boots. Or why do Australians make love to sheep on the edge of cliffs? So, they’ll push back harder.
Tim Ferriss: That’s pretty good. I mean, if you need some quick draw ammo, that’s not a bad one to have in the back pocket.
Phil Keoghan: But I’ve been to rugby matches in Australia where you stand up, and you cheer. And if there’s an Aussie behind you, and they know you’re supporting the All Blacks, they’ll pour some beer down the back of your chair. And it’s a healthy rivalry, I think. It’s just the Australians, to me, are closer to the American culture in terms of their sports psyche. They are really good at sports. You want to talk about believing and winning, Australians really, I think, exemplify that.
New Zealanders, I think, less so. Again, I think New Zealanders, they want to come in under the radar and exceed expectations. So, they don’t tend to use the same kind of psyche up. And with the cricket matches, they call it sledging where the Australian cricket team are out there on the pitch, in the middle of the pitch, and they’ll be just going at the opposition to psyche them out, basically. They have that edge about them.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. The Australians do seem to do more of that.
Phil Keoghan: Yeah. And they’re very successful, by the way. You look at the number of medals they win at the Olympics per capita, it’s pretty high. We’re up there as well. But I’m saying, the Australians – it’s a great rivalry. Let’s just say that. And I married an Australian, by the way.
Tim Ferriss: No. That’s part of the reason I brought it up. The Australians also tend to get, well, it depends on how drunk and sharp the Kiwis are at the time, but a lot of convict jokes get thrown at the Australians as well. For those people who want to be amused or completely confused or maybe both by Kiwi/Australian humor, there’s a video that I feel like it was watched by everybody in New Zealand at one point called Beach Days.
Beach Days, bro. It has to do with a whale and I think it’s a seagull among other things. You guys can look that up. And, chances are, you will not understand what’s going on.
Phil Keoghan: I think there’s something like a half a million New Zealanders living in Australia. It’s like a huge portion of the New Zealand population live in Australia. But now, a lot of Australians have wanted to come to New Zealand because our economy is doing okay.
Tim Ferriss: It does feel like a sibling rivalry.
Phil Keoghan: New Zealand is the last habitable land mass on earth to be populated. We offered a lot of land incentives to the Irish, English, Scotts. A lot of Dutch came over in the ‘50s.
We’re a very young country, super young country. And in 1880, if I’m not mistaken, the population was something like 80 percent men in New Zealand, which is where all of that mateship came from, probably a few sheep jokes as well. But we’re a super young country. Now, Australia had a tremendous number of criminals go there because England didn’t want them. That’s the English for them. Let’s send them way down there to that penile colony down in Australia. That will fix them. So, they sent them down there. They’re a rugged bunch. But don’t ever confuse New Zealanders and Australians. We don’t like that. We don’t like that. Just like Canadians a lot of times don’t –
Tim Ferriss: I was going to say, does one get more offended than the other? For instance, if you call an American Canadian, we’re like whatever. Canadians get very, in general – I love you guys, Canadians. I have a lot of Canadian friends, but Canadians are more sensitive.
Phil Keoghan: I think New Zealanders are probably more sensitive about it. I think Australians; they probably care less than we do.
Tim Ferriss: So, I wanted to ask you about low expectations versus high expectations because I remember a friend of mine, Naval Ravicant, once said, he said if you want to be happy, and I’m paraphrasing here, but if you wanted to be happy, spend time with people who are less successful than you. If you want to be successful, spend time with people who are more successful than you. So, you’ve spent a lot of time in New Zealand as well as in the US. I remember, at one point, and I’m dubious of how these things are determined, but the Danish beat out people in Bhutan and elsewhere to be voted the happiest people in the world.
Phil Keoghan: Bhutan, isn’t that the kingdom of happiness?
Tim Ferriss: Well, they have the gross national happiness, which I think is, actually, just a propaganda tool to distract from lack of GDP growth, among other things. But the point I was going to make is that I asked a number of my Danish friends about this, and they said, in effect, it’s because we have such low expectations. That’s why we’re happiest because our expectations are so low.
Now, at the same time, you’ve achieved a lot, you’ve done a lot. And you’ve spent a lot of time in the US where I would say a lot of people might argue that when expectations are higher and people expect you to do greater things, you do greater things. And, clearly, when I’m looking at, and I’ll just read off a few examples here, if we look at some of the things that you’ve done, so, no opportunity wasted, NOW. We could go on and on. I could just spend 20 minutes reading these.
Phil Keoghan: Don’t do that.
Tim Ferriss: I’m not going to do that. A golf ball across Scotland finishing in St. Andrews, complete the Lead Bill 100 mountain bike race. We’re going to get to this in detail, but ride the 1928 Tour de France on a fixed gear bike, correct?
Phil Keoghan: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: The same equipment that was used.
Phil Keoghan: Actually, it was a single speed bike.
Tim Ferriss: Single speed, I’m sorry. World record bungee jump with seven or eight adventure crazies. It just goes on and on and on. You have this long list. And if you had really, really low expectations, could you actually set these types of goals and achieve them?
Phil Keoghan: Well, it’s not that I’ve ever had low expectations.
Tim Ferriss: But this is something I battle with personally, so, that’s why I’m asking.
Phil Keoghan: No, I’ve never had low expectations. I’ve always had this desire to do new and different. If there’s one thing that I would like to be known for is that I’m prepared to try something new and different. I like to be surrounded by people who see, again, what they do have and what they can do as opposed to what they don’t have and what they can do. So, nothing drives me crazier than being surrounded by people who immediately start with a wall of no or immediately start with not having the vision to see that the impossible can happen. And I’ve been lucky enough to be around people who have achieved extraordinary things.
And it fees me. Malcolm Blackwell says anything new and different is most susceptible to market research. And I really feel that so many people apply potential and possibility based on what does it compare to.
What can we compare it to? Will it work? There’s a fixation on this idea of failure. I find people talk a lot about things failing in a negative way. I’ve failed so many times at so many things. But I try not to call them failures as much as I just call them giving it a go. And if there’s one thing that I love about positive people is that they are prepared to give it a go. Positive people just are constantly putting themselves out there to fall on their face. And, eventually, they stumble on something that works.
Tim Ferriss: Do you have any favorite failures that come to mind? And what I mean by that is a failure that somehow laid the ground work for a later success? Does any particular failure come to mind in your mind or what other people might consider a failure that actually was a blessing in disguise?
Phil Keoghan: Early on in my career, I tried to put together show ideas that I thought would really work, and they just didn’t really work. But it was all the ground work to be better the next time I tried to get something to work. And I’ve been involved with a lot of things that are pretty mediocre. But, again, I really do believe in trying and trying and trying again. When I was young, I learned how to play the violin when I was 3 years old with the Suzuki method, which was rope learning where you would be in a room with a whole bunch of people and you play tunes over and over and over again.
And then, eventually, I could play by ear. And when I was 7 or 8, my mom is a music teacher; I learned how to read music. And I became quite proficient at playing the violin. I used to go to a music school in New York. I was living in the Caribbean. I grew up in the Caribbean. I used to fly from Antigua in the Caribbean, go up to this music school for up to nine weeks.
Tim Ferriss: And the travel was due to your father’s job?
Phil Keoghan: Yeah. My mom and dad traveled all over the world. We lived four years in Canada, years in the Caribbean, we lived in South America through the Caribbean. We lived in Australia.
And I went to this school. And I was probably the worst musician out of all of these really talented kids. I was strong enough to get into this school but, certainly, not the best. And I remember being surrounded by the most extraordinary talent. Some of the talent that has gone on to play in the New York Philharmonic. But a big part of playing the violin and being successful, particularly at that age, was just practice and practice and practice. I remember how hideous and horrible I sounded starting with some new pieces early on. But you’d play and play over and over and over and over again.
You could say that the first performances that I made were a failure. And then, with all of the work and the effort, you end up with something that sounds halfway decent. So, I really do believe in the idea of perseverance. And I feel that a lot of people stop short at achieving goals because they’re not prepared to risk failure. We analyze failure, particularly as we get older, more and more.
So, I always try to encourage that with my daughter, too. I say to her just give it a go and see what happens. You never know where it’s going to take you. And what you learn and what you fail at may help you with something else. You may not understand how they’re related not, but five years from now, you’re going to draw on that. And it’s about life experience and just putting your hand up and saying I’ll give it a go. And that’s definitely something that is a New Zealand trait. Yeah, I’ll give it a go. Fake it until you make it. That’s a huge part of our psyche. Just give it a go.
And a lot of people who have way more talent than me are doing a lot of things. And I’m amazed at how reluctant they are, sometimes, to just step up. And I’ll pat them on the back, and I’ll go, hey, you got this. Dude, I’m prepared to give it a go, and you’re better than me. Come on, get up there.
Tim Ferriss: Get amongst it.
Phil Keoghan: Yeah, get up there. So, I think that comes a lot from the way that we talk about it in our culture because we celebrate success.
But I think we should also just celebrate people giving it a go.
Tim Ferriss: Give it a go, definitely. Well, I think it’s also dependent a lot on where you are even within say the US where I live in Silicon Valley, I live in San Francisco where there is very much a supportive environment for giving it a go.
Phil Keoghan: Those people are on the cutting edge of – they’re like the pioneers of where we’re at right now trying new and different things. The famous story of the guy who wrote up the idea for Fed Ex. They all thought he was crazy. New and different, it’s like what do you mean we’re going to have these central packaging locations, and you’re going to fly everything – you’re flying everything there, and then, you fly – that doesn’t make any sense.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Phil Keoghan: I think he failed, too.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I think he got a C or something. I want to say it was a business school final project. He got a barely passing grade or something along those lines. Yeah.
Phil Keoghan: And so, what my frustration is is a lot of people who are in decision making positions tend to be the least creative and the least visionary.
They’re much more about nuts and bolts and analyzing. And we would not have gone to the moon. We would not have done all of the crazy things that we have done in this world if people did it based on what we knew at that time.
Tim Ferriss: Sure.
Phil Keoghan: We’ve done all of these extraordinary things because some crazy people said I’m going to give it a go, and we’ll see what happens.
Tim Ferriss: If your daughter were putting together her own no opportunity wasted bucket list, and she said, “Dad, I’d love some help. Can you help me make this as good as possible?” So, she already has say 30 things listed, and she says, “I’m worried some of these things are frivolous. I’m not really sure if they’re good items to have on the list.” How would you respond?
Phil Keoghan: First of all, there are two kinds of lists, I think. One is a very personal list that you have that you might want to really keep secret because I do believe, sometimes, when you put things out into the universe and to other people, it can pick up momentum. And I also believe that, sometimes, if you put something out there, there are negative energies sometimes with some of the people that might hear of something you’re trying to do and knock you down because maybe they have their own frustrations or they have their own preconceived ideas about what’s possible.
And they can put a black cloud over what it is you want to do. But I would say to my daughter, first of all, believe anything is possible and give it a go. I remember when she was 9, she said, “Dad, I want to be a professional tennis player, a wildlife vet, and a professional photographer.” Professional photographer, wildlife vet, and professional tennis player. The rational part of my brain is thinking how is that – if I was giving advice, and she was about to make the choice that day, or she was working out how she was going to do it, you could say, well, that’s not really practical because if you want to be a professional tennis player, it’s going to take this many hours.
If you want to be a photographer, it’s going to be this. And if you want to be a wildlife vet, you’re going to have to do this, that, and the other.
But, instead, I remember making a deliberate effort to say that’s great. How are you going to do this? I wanted to understand what was in her head. She’s like well, I was thinking I could work on some kind of research project and then, I could work out a way to train. And then, I could take photographs while I’m doing my work. And then, I could fly to Europe, and I could play in the circuit there. And then, that would keep me really fit and focused and everything. And then, at night, I’ll work on my photographs.
And then, I’ll go back and take – she had a vision in her head about how she was going to – who am I to say to her it’s not possible to do all of those things? I don’t know. Maybe she could have found a way to do that. I don’t know. So, I wanted her to feel, at that age, yeah, okay. Go for it. Give it a go. See what happens.
Tim Ferriss: So, you are often associated, you’re associated with a lot of things, but with the Amazing Race. How did you come to be part of that show?
Phil Keoghan: It’s a good story. I came to America when I was 23 or 24. I thought I wouldn’t get arrested because I had a New Zealand accent, at the time, and I was told nobody wants a New Zealand accent on television. And this is the early ‘90s. And they weren’t wrong. And then, a guy took a chance on me. His name was Jack Sussman who is now at CBS. And he gave me a shot to host a show on VH1. And that opened the door. And then, once I got in, because none of my credentials from before in New Zealand meant anything in America.
Not like today where you could be a host of Dancing with the Stars in New Zealand and then use that to leverage getting work here. They didn’t understand. Oh, what’s this show? That’s Fairly Interesting.
Tim Ferriss: Sounds exciting.
Phil Keoghan: Sounds really exciting. In America, we’ve got That’s Incredible. Anyway, so, there’s a reason for me telling you that just because he was later at CBS. Then, I had this show that was set up by an Australian by the name of Peter Faiman who directed Crocodile Dundee, and he was setting up FX Networks.
And he took a chance on me to be one of the field people with that show I was telling you Tom Bergeron hosted. And I did that for four and a half or five years. So, he took a shot on me because there were some people like you’re going to put a New Zealander on the air? But anyway, that gave me a lot of American TV experience. And then, we did a show together on Discovery Channel, and I worked with a cameraman who shot this adventure series, it was called Phil Keoghan’s Adventure Crazy. It was following my list of things to do before I die. It was shot all around the world.
That cameraman was being considered to shoot Amazing Race. And they looked at his footage and saw me in his footage. And then, they said who is that guy. And the EIC, executive in charge of production on Amazing Race had worked with me on that show. And he said, “Oh, that’s Phil. I just was working with him.” And CBS was aware of me because I’d been passed over for Survivor. It was between Jeff Probst and I for that job. And a big concern, again, was that I was a New Zealander.
And then, finally, I remember I met with Les Munves, and he said, “This is the second time your name has come across my desk in the last year.” And he said, “I’m going to give you a shot.” And I remember I got short listed down to three and then to two. And then, Les and I had this conversation, Les Munves, and then, I just had to get signed off from Jerry Bruckheimer and Bertram Van Munster and Elise Targanieri and Jonathon Littman and the network and all of the executives who are involved in the show. And they said yes. And then, I had a shot.
Tim Ferriss: How many episodes have you done, at this point, would you say, if you were just guesstimating?
Phil Keoghan: I’m guessing it’s got to be 300, 400. It’s a lot. It’s 29 seasons of 12 and 13 episodes a season.
Tim Ferriss: And those 12 or 13 episodes are each shot in a window of –
Phil Keoghan: Twenty-one days.
Tim Ferriss: That’s insane.
Phil Keoghan: So, 12 shows in 21 days. That’s the part that a lot of people don’t realize is how intense it is.
Tim Ferriss: Just the logistics, just getting the visas alone for everyone.
Phil Keoghan: Yeah. The team that I work with, I’m lucky to be a part of a great team. And going back to your point before about working, I’ve been lucky enough that that’s been my experience throughout my career. That I’ve been surrounded by people who are better than me at doing certain things. And as a team member, you want to try to match the level of their input. You want to be known as a valuable team player. My grandfather always said that you could build a stereo system, but the stereo system only sounds as good as the weakest link in the stereo system. The same thing I guess with a chain.
It’s the same thing. And so, you always want to be somebody who is higher up the chain who is really a strong element in that team, in that framework. But never the biggest chain.
Tim Ferriss: Never the biggest target.
Phil Keoghan: Well, because that’s not a good feeling. And I’ve been in those situations where you feel like you’re the most experienced in a team. And, to be honest with you, I don’t really like that.
I really love looking across at somebody in a team that I’m on and going, man, they are so experienced and so much better. I’ve been working with 60 Minutes Sports and working with the people who produce 60 Minutes, and being surrounded by those storytellers, you feel like you’re 18 again, and you’re starting back at square one.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I remember some advice that I was given quite a while ago, which was if you’re the smartest person in the room; you’re in the wrong room.
Phil Keoghan: Yeah. That’s a good one.
Tim Ferriss: So, question to you about hosting. What are the most common mistakes that come to mind that novice TV hosts make?
Phil Keoghan: I think where they make it about them. I think the best hosts, and, again, this is only my opinion, the best hosts are the ones that can facilitate a conversation with the least number of words where you’ve done your research, and then, you, basically, are letting them go. You let them go. And you’re there to just keep things moving. And you’re there to make them look good. And the better you make them look, the better you are. Where I get turned off with some hosts is where they feel like they have to one up the person that they’re meant to be showcasing.
And I see that a lot of times, and it’s finding that balance. Finding the balance of really connecting with the person. But, ultimately, letting them be the guest and giving them the last say or the last word, I guess. You want to make them look good. You’re focused on that.
Tim Ferriss: Are there any particular hosts or television personalities, it could be radio, doesn’t matter, you looked at or do look at as the epitome of that? Are there any role models that you grew up looking towards? Or even now, if you had to create this super host, and you could combine two or three people, do any names come to mind?
Phil Keoghan: I love the way Jimmy Fallon plays with his guests, but he’s always willing to back out and let them shine.
Tim Ferriss: He is really good at that.
Phil Keoghan: I just think that takes a real skill because he himself is so talented as a performer. But he has that ability to step back and say you’re the star of my show.
Do you thing. He really has a way of having fun and relaxing. And I think he’s gotten so much better at it, too. I think when he first started, he was trying to find his way, and now, he’s sort of hit the sweet spot. What’s interesting now is so many people are watching Colbert because he’s got much more of a political message. And people are gravitating towards that more than they are the fun stuff. You can see that in the ratings. I love Jon Stewart’s style. I love Colbert’s style. I was a big David Letterman fan. I loved Carson. I’m new to podcasts, so, I’ve been listening to a lot of different podcasts.
I was saying to you before, I loved the piece that you did with [inaudible]. I like that you’re so well researched with your guests, and you draw stuff out and hit them with things that they don’t necessarily see coming because I think preparation, with a good host, is so crucial. And I’ll tell you who else is, for a lot of people it’s surprising, and that’s Howard Stern.
He has a way of getting people to open up.
Tim Ferriss: Howard is a Jedi when it comes to –
Phil Keoghan: He’s really good. I, personally, wasn’t surprised because I’ve listened to him for a long, long time. My favorite part of what he does is talking to people. I love conversations. A good story, you could be sitting around a camp fire, and if it’s a good story, it just works. And I think that’s the real measure of somebody who is a good host.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s talk about stories for a second. Are there any particular books besides your own that you’ve gifted to people or that you recommend a lot to other people?
Phil Keoghan: Yeah. Every year, I read The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway.
Tim Ferriss: Great book.
Phil Keoghan: It’s so easy to read, and it has such a strong message.
Tim Ferriss: What do you get out of that book?
Phil Keoghan: Well, I left home pretty much at the age of 13 and went to boarding school, and I haven’t lived at home since then. And I’ve been independent for a long time. It forced me to grow up. And then, I’ve been financially responsible for myself since I was 18. So, I feel like I had to grow up really quickly.
And one of the reasons that I’ve set up so many adventures with my dad is because I missed a lot of time with him between 13 and 18. All of those holidays through 13 to 18 in those really influential years, I had a lot of time with a grandparent, with my grandfather. My grandfather was born in 1912. He was the duck’s – I don’t know what you call it in America, but he was the brightest kid in his middle school.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, he was the valedictorian of his middle school.
Phil Keoghan: Valedictorian of his middle school, and he was given a scholarship to go away to a Catholic college in Christchurch, which was over the mountains, over the Southern Alps in New Zealand. For one reason or another, he wasn’t given that opportunity and didn’t get to go to that school, go to high school. And he became a bike mechanic in his teens and very quickly put himself through becoming an A grade mechanic and then worked as a mechanic up until he was about 65.
And he was at the same place for many, many years. But my grandfather was unbelievably smart and never got to fully realize his potential academically. But he used his intellect in other ways. And I spent a lot of hours with him in his workshop where he was a gun smith. He would fix guns. He would bed guns. He was absolutely meticulous, had the most incredible tools. If he didn’t have the tool, he would make the tool.
Tim Ferriss: This is in New Zealand.
Phil Keoghan: This is in New Zealand.
Tim Ferriss: Not a place known for guns.
Phil Keoghan: Well, a lot of people do have guns but for hunting. My grandfather was a sharp shooter. Actually, a number of my family members were sharp shooters in the war. But it was quite a big sport in New Zealand, target shooting.
Tim Ferriss: Sure.
Phil Keoghan: And he got me into it at a very young age. And I made the New Zealand under 25 team when I was about 16, I think, with him being my coach. But I spent a lot of hours watching him. And target shooting is all about focus and discipline.
You have to be so meticulous to be a good shooter, dropping your heart rate, connecting with the rifle, and really seeing clearly, and making sure you pull the trigger. And it’s like there’s so much involved. It’s such a mental sport. Anyway, I spent so much time with him and I learned so much from him. I think because of that – and he invented an outrigger sight. His friend went blind in his right eye, and he was on the New Zealand team. He couldn’t see out of his right eye.
And my grandfather had a dream that if he built an outrigger sight, if he moved the sight the distance of the pupil between the right eye and the left eye, this guy, Morris Kelligan, could look through is left eye, close is right eye, look through his left eye, and then have this outrigger sight that was offset by the distance of his pupil at the other end of the barrel, and he would be able to see and shoot. And sure enough, it worked. My grandfather got up in the middle of the night, built it –
Tim Ferriss: And that is hard to make.
Phil Keoghan: Yeah. Now, you can buy it off the shelf. My grandfather never patented it.
But that was how his brain worked. And so, I think because of that relationship, I have a tremendous amount of respect for older people who have so much to give. And age discrimination, to me, is one of the biggest crimes that we have where there’s such a focus on young and this is the new thing, and this is the new way. And we need young people. And I’m all about that because young is new and different. I’m all about that. But I’m also a firm believer that we are wasting a tremendous talent pool of people in this country who could share their wisdom and their life knowledge with young people who maybe have lost their way or where we tap into that resource.
And it’s sort of very sad to me. When I hear it and I see it, I see it a lot in my business, oh, we don’t want the guy who is 60 who wrote the script. We want the 25-year-old kid. He’s got this great idea. Well, sometimes, that guy who has been writing for 10,000 hours actually might be able to offer you something.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, for sure.
Phil Keoghan: Maybe we can learn from that guy.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned the marksmanship. You also have a long history with cycling and have done quite a lot on two wheels. Could you tell us a little bit about your latest documentary? And what I’d love for you to comment on is how you chose this project and choose projects, in general, because you have many different options. You can do many different things. So, how do you choose something like this to focus on? And can you tell us a little bit about it?
Phil Keoghan: I think one of the reasons that this project came about is I feel I’m open to anything happening at any moment. I believe in magic. I believe in not planning too much ahead, being receptive to what might come tomorrow or who I might meet, and being open to the possibilities that come from those meetings and books I read.
And so, I found this book at an airport. It was a tiny, little book. It was some publisher that I’d never heard of written by some guys that I’d never heard of. And it said the first New Zealander to ride in the Tour de France 1928, seven time New Zealand champion Harry Watson from Canterbury, New Zealand. I’m like hold on a second. I love cycling. I love cycling history. How do I not know who this guy is? I read the book in one sitting. And I know some professional cyclists. I emailed them and said have you ever heard of this guy, Harry Watson? And they’re like Harry who? Seven time New Zealand champion.
So, I read the book, and then, I find out that this guy, Harry Watson, used to go over to Australia and ride in these races with the best riders in Australia. And there was only one guy over there who could beat him, and they would go back and forth winning races. But he would go over there and take part in these amazing 1,000 mile races, come back to New Zealand, not say a word to anybody.
It would never make it into the press. It would make it in the press that he won like a New Zealand championship. But nobody had any real idea at the caliber that this guy was riding at. He had records that stood for like 50 years in New Zealand. And I just became so fascinated with the idea that this guy was the epitome of what we talk about when we talk about an understated New Zealander. You don’t talk about your achievements. You don’t show off about your achievements. He was the poppy that – well; he never actually grew up to be chopped off. He just went and achieved things and just kept it all really low.
Phil Keoghan: Low profile.
Tim Ferriss: Low profile. So, I looked at it, and then, I started doing some research. And this is with my wife and I, producer partner, and the more we researched, the more we realized the 1928 Tour de France had the first English speaking team that competed in it. It was this one New Zealander and three Australians went six weeks at sea all the way to France with one set of rollers between them on these old, heavy, steel bikes.
Rocked up there to the start line in Europe and the Europeans were like what the hell are you doing here? Where have you come from? Do you not realize that we’re the best riders in the world? The toughest sporting event on earth and you’re going to come here and try to school us? Who are you guys? And they were only four guys. They were meant to team up with six other riders to make a team of ten like all the big riders. But the other riders didn’t turn up. The sponsors fell through. So, now, they’re over on the other side of the world, four against ten. And 15 of the 22 stages were team timed trials.
But they refused to give in. The press wrote them off. Everybody wrote them off. And they decided they were going to race. And it’s not like you can send out a tweet and say, hey, I’m looking for some riders. They just couldn’t get it together. So, the four were at the starting line. And the sad part of it all is that this story has all been lost because they’re gone. And I started digging around, digging around. And I thought this story needs to be told because it’s like these unforgotten underdogs.
The highest attrition rate in Tour de France history in 1928. It was brutal. I thought the only way to really tell this story is I need to find one of those old bikes that they rode. I need to find the old route. And I need to find where they went. I need to go and ride it, stick to the same schedule, and then, juxtapose 2013; my ride with their ride in 1928, match up old photographs, look for old footage, and tell this story so that it isn’t forgotten. Not like it was ever really known in New Zealand, but that we tell this story.
Tim Ferriss: What is the name of the documentary?
Phil Keoghan: It’s called Le Ride. And I made another film called The Ride not to be confused with That Ride, which was across America. I need to get more creative with the names, I think. It was the hat.
Tim Ferriss: Then, you can do one in South America, it’s El Ride.
Phil Keoghan: See, I had The Ride on my hat, and I thought all I have to do is just have to take out two letters, put an L there, and boom, I’ve got the same hat.
Tim Ferriss: Ready to rock and roll.
Phil Keoghan: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So, how long was the course then?
Phil Keoghan: So, 3,338 miles, an average of 150 miles a day.
Tim Ferriss: Not flag ground.
Phil Keoghan: This was brutal. Single speed bicycles, marginal brakes, bikes that weigh twice as much as a modern bike does today, 132,000 vertical feet. By the time they had got through eight stages, they went from one hundred and sixty-eight starting in Paris to one hundred after eight stages. By the time they finished the death stage, the ninth stage, the winning time in 1928 was 18.5 hours. It was 200 something miles and over 20,000 vertical feet in 1 day, over major climbs in the Pyrenees that separates Spain and France, 18.5 hours, the winning time. What was really cool about this story was this is 1928.
This is 10 years after World War I. Nothing has or had more impact on New Zealand than World War I. Ten percent of the New Zealand population went to Europe, went to Gallipoli, went to all of these places in Europe to fight alongside Mother England in World War I, 10 percent. Imagine that on ships. They traveled to the other side of the world to fight. So, everybody has lost relatives or has a relative who fought in the war. So, the French people remembered the Anzacs, the Australian and New Zealand troops that had only been in France 10 years before fighting in the trenches in Northern France against the Germans.
They remembered that sacrifice. So, when the French people realized that this small, untested, underdog team were taking on the best riders in the world and that they were going to ride around France, they got out on the streets, and they cheered this underdog team. And they not only won over the public, they then won over the French press.
And then, they won over the other riders. And by the end of the ride, three out of those four riders made it around France. Only 42 riders out of 168 riders made it. They made it with four against ten.
Tim Ferriss: That’s insane.
Phil Keoghan: And world class riders. These guys were world class, but nobody knew. If that was a headline in New Zealand that they made it, I just don’t think, in New Zealand, people understand because cycling is such a complicated sport. I’m not sure if they truly understand the significance of how incredible that achievement is. And he’s not in the Sporting Hall of Fame, Harry Watson. I think he should be. If he was an All Black, if he was a rugby player, he would be. Sir Hubert Opperman, on the other hand, was knighted. Sir Hubert Opperman, he was a politician. He was instrumentally in getting rid of the white Australia policy.
There are statues for him in Australia. But in New Zealand, this guy who was from my home town, there’s nothing. And I’m trying not to raise the money to put a permanent fixture in Christchurch over one of the cycle ways for us never to forget him.
But the film is certainly helping.
Tim Ferriss: Where can people find the film?
Phil Keoghan: Philkeoghanleride.com. And my name is a crazy spelling.
Tim Ferriss: I’ll put it in the show notes for people so they can find it.
Phil Keoghan: I can’t even spell my name sometimes it’s so hard to spell.
Tim Ferriss: So, I encourage people to check it out. I watched the trailer. And just the very beginning when you guys are riding on these old, rickety bikes across cobblestones just getting started –
Phil Keoghan: Yeah, not a good idea. Can I just say this is not a good idea, by the way? I mean, yeah, not a good idea. To try to make a movie while you’re taking on the biggest physical and mental challenge of your life, not a good recipe for making – that’s just not a good thing to do. That stage I was telling you about took us 23.5 hours to finish. We had seven stages over 200 miles on those old bikes with no gears.
I jacked my hip up for about 15 months. I had this crazy pain in my hip. I couldn’t get rid of it until I got a standing desk, by the way. That’s what fixed it.
Tim Ferriss: Standing desk.
Phil Keoghan: I got a standing desk, boom, within three weeks.
Tim Ferriss: All right. So, let’s talk about a few things like that because, before we started recording, you pulled up a microphone because we were looking at my current audio set up, which is a Zoom H6 with some basic extra large cables.
Phil Keoghan: Great set up, by the way.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you. Very simple. As Morgan Spurlock put it to me, once you get fancy, fancy gets broken. This is not fancy. I have a Sure SM 58 stage mics here.
Phil Keoghan: He’s an interesting guy, isn’t he?
Tim Ferriss: He is an interesting guy.
Phil Keoghan: We were on Oprah together once.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, is that right?
Phil Keoghan: Yeah. Back in 2001. That was the first time I met him was 2001.
Tim Ferriss: On Oprah. Wow.
Phil Keoghan: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: That’s a hell of a place to meet. And you brought up a microphone because you often have to do pickups, audio on the road.
Phil Keoghan: Yes, a lot.
Tim Ferriss: And it’s a Sure MV88 digital stereo condenser mic, which plugs right into the lightening port on an iPhone.
Phil Keoghan: Recommended to me by the guy who mixed Le Ride, our film, a really talented guy. He, actually, also mixed Hidden Figures. He’s a passionate cyclist. And, yeah, I thought if this guy says it’s good, it’s got to be good.
Tim Ferriss: And you tested it out. I’m always curious about travel mic options because, even with the amount of gear that I have, it weighs a lot to truck around and carry around this stuff. But what other gear or tools are must haves for you when you’re on the road? Are there any particular maybe non obvious gizmos, gadgets, ways of packing, not packing, anything that comes to mind that you’ve found is necessary for survival on the road when you’re doing these 12 episodes in 20 days? I’m not going to call it a death march, but it’s intense travel schedules.
Phil Keoghan: Yeah. It’s interesting.
I get that question from people about what to pack, what to travel. I am crazy about technology. I love technology so much. My first job I mentioned I was a film camera assistant. And then, watching my grandfather as a gunsmith and then being a camera assistant was great because you had to be so meticulous about looking after the gear. I was enamored with what’s the latest, greatest craze, and what can you do with technology. A friend of mine says isn’t it great living in the future. And I totally agree with him. I think it’s so important to keep up with the technology and just how you and I are sharing oh, try this mic.
This is great. And then, I see your set up. You keep learning all of the time. You see how people do things and how people pack and the cameraman that I’ve been working with for 25 years. Every time I see him, he and I are big repurposers. So, we love finding the best ways to repurpose things, new ways of doing things. And a big part of that is in technology. That said, I’m also old school. I also have had mole skin diary that I write into that I’ve had for 30 years.
So, when you see the stuff that I travel with, I have really old school paper and pencil, and then all the way through to the latest technology. So, this film that we shot, Le Ride, was the first documentary ever shot on a Sony F55 4K camera. At that stage, they had never shot a feature film, the equivalent of super 35 mm in digital and then beautiful ingénue glass and that sort of thing. I think you’re crazy to travel without some means of capturing video or audio. I’m amazed at what, without mentioning a name, but I’m amazed at what a smart phone can do. It blows my mind. The new phone that I have has two lenses in it.
The audio quality is extraordinary. I just shot this project for Smithsonian in 4K. We’re actually doing it in UHD. And there’s a shot that I needed.
And I was sitting somewhere where there’s no way I was going to get a camera there in time or in the space where I was. And I pulled out this phone, set it to 4K, and we cut it in as a quick cut away shot on my phone. I love that.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it is amazing.
Phil Keoghan: And I love that I can, at 5:00 in the morning, walk out into my dad’s garden with this little microphone, plug it into my phone, and be standing there surrounded by all of these birds. And you heard the quality.
Tim Ferriss: It’s outrageous.
Phil Keoghan: I just love it.
Tim Ferriss: What would be, let’s just say, a purchase of less than $100.00, if something comes to mind, that has most positively impacted your life in recent memory.
Phil Keoghan: Less than $100.00?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Phil Keoghan: Probably the biggest impact for something less than $100.00 would be a mole skin diary. I’ve got them all lined up for every year. I’ve had them since 1986. So, in there, in a very tactile way, I have like lists in the back, movies, books. And then, I write in the back the name of the book and then who recommended the book.
And then, I make a little note, and then, I tick them off. And then, when I’ve read the book, I write to the person that recommended the book. And they’ll be like I recommended that? And I’ll be like, yeah, you did. And then, I’ll tell them where and when and why.
Tim Ferriss: So, you have an index of books and movies in the back of the diary.
Phil Keoghan: In the back of the diary. And then, every year, if there’s something that I haven’t read or found in that year, sometimes, some really obscure things, I’ll transfer those over into the next year. But now, mole skin has this crazy pen that has a little camera on it that records everything you write digitally on paper. And then, you can email – like you and I could be talking and writing some notes just like your book there, and then, I just tap the pen on a little envelope icon, and I can text it, email it, post it, whatever. And it’s recorded, when you go back, it’s all recorded back on your computer.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. That’s very cool. I use a tool called Ever Note and something called Pen Ultimate for similar purposes.
What do you write in your journal in the sense that do you sit down at a set time, do you tend to, every night sit down and diary?
Phil Keoghan: I’m not a diary guy like that as much as it’s more just ideas or sketches. I just came up with a new name for a brand that I want to explore developing. I just wrote down the name. It was a sort of free association. And then, I arrived on this name. And it was like boom, I love this name. And then, I went and looked it up, and it was available. So, then, I did a trademark on it. And then, I started sketching with it. So, a lot of times, it’s just flushing out ideas. I also use it for meetings. So, every time I meet with somebody, I put the date, I put the time.
My mother taught shorthand. I wish I learned from her. But I’d write down key elements of the meeting. A lot of times, I can remember the pages. So, I’ll go that’s right, I met with Tim, when was that?
Oh, yeah, we met in ’16. And then, I’ll go back into the diary. Again, they’re all chronological. And I can remember roughly, or I’ll just look it up in the calendar. That’s the easy way. But, a lot of times, I’ll challenge my brain and go it was April and flick through to that part and look at the notes.
Tim Ferriss: That’s what Robert Rodriguez, film maker, director, writer, and so on also does. He keeps copious notes on meetings. And then, he transfers them, I think, to a Word doc at roughly midnight. And that way, he’s able to go back and search, which you could do with some of these newer technologies as well.
Phil Keoghan: Well, he would love this mole skin diary because it’s the same thing. But he wouldn’t have to double transfer because it converts it into text.
Tim Ferriss: Automatically converts it.
Phil Keoghan: Yeah. Let him know.
Tim Ferriss: I will. He’s here in Austin. Phil this has been great fun. Where can people, and of course, I’ll put this in the show notes as well for people listening as well, but where can people say hello to you on social and elsewhere?
Phil Keoghan: A lot of people contact me through Twitter. It’s just my name @philkeoghan.
Tim Ferriss: Can you spell that for all the people out there who are spelling challenged?
Phil Keoghan: Do you really think they’re going to remember this?
Tim Ferriss: My listeners are bright people.
Phil Keoghan: Phil is the ordinary Phil, P-H-I-L, and then, Keoghan, which is K-E-O-G-H-A-N. And my website is just my name, philkeoghan.com.
Tim Ferriss: And they can find you. You’re an easy man to find.
Phil Keoghan: Yeah. People have a way of finding me some way.
Tim Ferriss: Well Phil, thank you so much for the time. I really appreciate you popping out.
Phil Keoghan: This is great to be here. I know you’ve talked to a lot of really cool people. And it’s nice to be here and spend some time with you.
Tim Ferriss: Likewise. No, I mean, these are great stories. And everybody listening, think about 3:00 p.m. tomorrow. That’s your deathbed. What are you going to say I wish I had, I wish I could? Put together that list. And also, as always, you can find links to everything we’ve talked about, the new film, and where you can find Phil and everything else, The Old Man and the Sea and so on, in the show notes @tim.blog/podcast.
And you can also find every other episode. And until next time, thank you for listening.
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