‘Tough as Nails’ Host Phil Keoghan on Shining a Light on Unsung Heroes

tough as nails
Monty Brinton/CBS

Phil Keoghan can’t help but get carried away when speaking about the inspiring new reality competition Tough as Nails, a show he’s been trying to launch for a decade that celebrates America’s unsung heroes.

“Who are the badasses out there who roll up their sleeves every day and make sure you and I can live the lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to, where we know that the roads are drivable and that the power is on?” he asks. “Many of [these people] are hidden away in remote places: on top of buildings 50 stories up in New York City putting a bolt through two I-beams, or underground mining for minerals, or on a remote farm growing the food you’re going to eat tonight. Let’s put them in the spotlight for a change.”

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Six men and six women — among them a Virginia firefighter, a third-generation farmer from Ohio, a Florida welder and a scaffolder from the Bronx — vie for a grand prize, but the real show of appreciation for these essential workers is that losing a challenge doesn’t result in a ticket home. “If anybody ‘punches out’ of the individual competition, they stay for the team competition,” says Keoghan. “Every single person went home with money in their pocket.”

Those sweaty, taxing challenges come from the real world (no elaborate mazes or jumbo jigsaw puzzles here) and take place in locales like factories, construction sites and neighborhoods. Physical prowess is a plus — especially when moving 24 bags filled with sand across an obstacle via wheelbarrow — but mental strength is critical too. One unique advantage contestants have: life skills.

tough as nails

(Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS)

“They know how to use tools. They know how to work with their hands [and have excellent] eye-hand coordination,” marvels Keoghan, whose grandfather, a mechanic and gunsmith, passed along his skills and the joy that comes with doing a job right. (On that note, The Amazing Race, which Keoghan also hosts, returns later this year.)

In the end, Keoghan hopes viewers will come to appreciate not just these dozen cast members but all the workers “sticking their necks out for the rest of us, for not a lot of money sometimes, but for tremendous pride.”

Tough as Nails, Series Premiere, Wednesday, July 8,8/7c,CBS