“Tough As Nails” was shooting Season 4 back in November 2021 when Los Angeles experienced the most disruptive thunderstorm the city had experienced in at least a decade. It was the kind of freak weather occurrences that would shut down most on-location productions.
“It was a biblical storm,” executive producer and host Phil Keoghan says. “But I come from New Zealand, where you’re predominantly shooting in the rain — and every now and again you get a sunny day. In L.A., it’s the opposite. You’re always shooting in the sun. People were like, ‘are we shooting today?’ I’m like, this show is called ‘Tough As Nails.’ So yes, we are shooting today.”
Keoghan is eager to get “Tough As Nails,” which returns on January 4, back on the air after a long hiatus. (Scroll down to watch an exclusive look at the first five minutes of this season.) “To be honest, CBS has had so many successful shows that there hasn’t been a space for us to come in,” he says. “We’ve had a break for quite a while, so we’re eager to build back up some of that momentum.”
A fifth season of “Tough As Nails” has already been shot, and Keoghan and fellow creator Louise Keoghan have also been busy selling the format to other territories, including Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and Turkey.
“A huge part of the ‘Tough As Nails’ journey is being able to watch it work and learn from other people taking our concept and challenges and seeing their interesting ways of doing it. To see a format that we angst over for so long, work in any language, and where we’ve got these universal themes of working in construction, and in the trades, it’s hugely satisfying.”
“Tough As Nails” was created before the pandemic, but it premiered in July 2020 — right as the show’s focus on essential workers and tasks of strength, endurance and mental toughness took on even more resonance.
“That’s where I’m so pleased that we’re able to put a spotlight on another part of society,” Keoghan says. “We are fascinated with the fantasy lifestyle of what celebrities are doing. I get that. But I think where we can play a different note is in the idea of well, what about the people that don’t normally get the spotlight shone on them? Most people are really fighting out there in the world to make a living, to provide a better life for their family and provide in ways that a lot of people are struggling with right now. And this is a show where we can see them be the heroes for a while.”
“Tough As Nails” contains individual challenges but also group competitions (“Dirty Hands” and “Savage Crew”) and no one is eliminated. “I just love that part of it,” Keoghan says. “Our goal is that by the end of the season, the audience has fallen in love with the characters.”
The Season 4 premiere of “Tough As Nails” takes place off the Los Angeles coast on Catalina Island, where 12 contestants must replace old boat moorings. The first two to complete the challenge get to select their teammates.
“We’ve been wanting to get out of L.A., and it’s been challenging with COVID,” Keoghan says, “We got through five seasons now, and we haven’t had an issue with COVID in our production. But it has meant that we’ve stayed in LA just to keep our logistics under control. But there are these amazing islands 23 miles off the coast of California. I love Catalina… and so we thought, let’s get off the mainland and go to an island environment. It gave us a different look and a different start. The show starts with them leaving the west coast and heading out to sea. We first meet our cast as they’re coming across that strip of ocean out towards Catalina.”
As for this season’s cast, Keoghan says the show’s age range is the largest it’s ever been. And he promises “a lot of humor this season. It forced me to up my dad jokes. There’s quite a few dad jokes this season.” Contestants are competing for the ultimate $200,000 cash prize, but challenges also come with their own prizes.
“We got the competition, and the challenges are super tough, and it will break people and bring them to their knees, and they will cry from the effort of doing it,” he adds. “But I think ultimately, what people will take away from the show is more of the humor and the heartfelt stories.”
And also, the return of Keoghan’s dad, calling in from New Zealand. Watch a first look at the Season 4 premiere of “Tough As Nails” below: