Phil Keoghan Previews the 'Tough as Nails' Season 4 Cast

The veteran reality host also gives his reaction to the show going international.

When Tough as Nails returns for season 4 on January 4, it will be over two years since we last saw the newest hit CBS reality show on our screens. But it left us with quite the final image, as "Jill-of-all-trades" Lia Mort became the season 3 champion, and the first woman to win the show proper. And while we haven't seen anything since then, host, executive producer, and showrunner Phil Keoghan was working hard to film not one, but two seasons in the interim.

"The reality is that women competing on a show like this are always going to have the odds slightly stacked against them," Keoghan exclusively tells Parade.com when asked about Mort's win. "Because they are a minority in a lot of the trades. They make up a smaller percentage of the people who are in the trades in general. I'm hoping that that changes. But you can't kind of rule out giving people from different walks of life a shot at things and seeing that they can come through and can shine. It just proved the point that a 125-pound 50-year-old woman could go up against young men and women with life skills and knowledge and tenacity."

That point certainly put some new gas in the tank for Keoghan and company as they strived to continue to highlight everyday hardworking Americans. Keoghan has made it clear that every season of Tough as Nails he comes in having learned some very valuable lessons from the last one. But for season 4, he had an additional source of inspiration: International versions. In the time since filming season 3, Tough as Nails has been picked up for their own local editions in countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, and Norway. And getting to visit those sets for correspondence also served as a way to reflect on what he's done through very different eyes.

"A lot of times, they'll get a second shot at a challenge that we've done one time," Keoghan uses as an example. "And then they get to ask us, "Well, what would you do differently the second time? And so we're able to give insight, and then we get to watch it and go, 'Wow, okay, that actually works really well.' You learn a lot from watching other professionals."

<p>Cliff Lipson/CBS</p>

Cliff Lipson/CBS

Having the privilege to visit international versions of your show was a truly unimaginable idea for Keoghan back when he was shopping around the idea of Tough as Nails over five years ago. But he figures the concept defies any geographic borders. "Working men and women around the world is a universal theme. It doesn't matter where you go: Rome, Istanbul, London, or Chicago. There are always people who are working on the sides of the roads, picking up the trash, people out in the storms, people that come in to fix your blocked toilet. I think that's why it's resonated."

"It's also about the relevance," he continues. "As viewers, we love what a celebrity is doing. What are they eating? Who are they dating? What houses did they buy? And we have those shows in abundance. The spot that we've managed to secure is more like, 'Oh, that's my uncle, my mother, my brother.' It's more the people that we know in our neighborhood that we get to know each day. This is a place we can celebrate those people."

And indeed, this season of Tough as Nails brings on a dozen new competitors to celebrate. Their ages range from 22 to 54, their occupations from a diesel technician to a firefighter to a shipboard electrician. And for Keoghan, this season is about connecting across the generations, in a tone straight out of Disney.

"What I love about season four is that you've got these sort of Lion King moments," he says. "You've got someone like Sergio, who's in his later 50s. And he really connects with Jorge, who's much younger. He's the guy that Sergio used to be. So Sergio is the one with all the life knowledge, the 10,000 hours of experience. And Jorge is the young lion coming up who's stronger and faster, but he still hasn't learned all the life skill. So I love to juxtapose the old and the young. The diversity on our show was is really key to just not just in skin color, but also just in terms of their backgrounds, what kind of work they do. In this particular season, there was a really special bond with these competitors."

Check out Sergio, Jorge, and the other 10 competitors on Tough as Nails season 4 below, as well as Keoghan's thoughts on each one. Tough as Nails premieres with a special two-hour episode on Wednesday, January 4 on CBS.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Tough as Nails Season 4

Tough as Nails Season 4 Cast

<p>Cliff Lipson/CBS</p>

Cliff Lipson/CBS

Aly Bala – Laborer

Aly has her grandfather's old truck. It's a Ford. She's very practical, she loves practical things. There's a really special moment with her right in episode one which is really going to clue the audience into who she is and what she's about. But she is a young woman trying to prove herself in the world. And there are struggles for young women and women in general getting into trades; there's still a stigma. I mean, I look at what's going on in the world of sport right now. For so long people were like, "Oh, women's tennis, nobody's ever gonna watch it. It's not as popular as men's tennis." And then Serena and Venus came along and proved everybody wrong.

I think Aly represents that younger person who's coming up in a time of change. She doesn't have to deal with some of the things that Lia had to deal with as a young woman coming into the trades. There are big changes have already been made. And lots is going to change in Aly's lifetime, and career as well. And I love seeing that. I love young people. I love hearing their optimism for the future. And she's definitely somebody who's optimistic.

<p>Cliff Lipson/CBS</p>

Cliff Lipson/CBS

Beth Salva-Clifford – Shipboard Electrician

Boy, Beth. She's an intense competitor. Very, very intense. She does not like to lose. She can get the job done. She is a no B.S. type of person. She gets focused on a job and doing a job. She means business. She's got a beautiful smile. But she's all business when she's competing. This is somebody who has a lot of technical knowledge, but has a real physical presence, and also a lot of practical skills.

<p>Cliff Lipson/CBS</p>

Cliff Lipson/CBS

Ellery Liburd – Firefighter

I realized after I met Ellery that we actually grew up not too far away from each other. Where I lived in Antigua, in the Caribbean, I could actually see across to Nevis and St. Kitts, which are the little islands just off the coast of Antigua. We're almost the same age that he grew up there. So we weren't too far away from each other. But his mom brought him to America when he was a young kid for an education. He's served the country and he's a proud New York firefighter. Just a heart of gold. Somebody who's got the years; he's got a lot of life experience. He has great connections with the younger cast as well.

<p>Cliff Lipson/CBS</p>

Cliff Lipson/CBS

Ilima Shim – Construction Worker

I love Ilima. I call Ilima the "Xena Warrior Princess of Hawaii." Because she has got it. She's quite a physical presence. I mean, she's in phenomenal shape. She has these beautiful tattoos that just suits her whole look. She's got strength and knowledge. She's the whole package. And she's got a big smile and full of enthusiasm. I would say she's distinctive like [season 2 finalist] Zeus was distinctive and proud to be from Hawaii. Great story and very competitive.

<p>Cliff Lipson/CBS</p>

Cliff Lipson/CBS

Jake Cope – Pipeline worker

I'm so pleased we got Jake on. Jake is one of the original people that we wanted on season one. When we were first putting together a mock cast, before we even did a test shoot--so we're talking 2017--I found Jake. And I got on the phone with him. And he is actually responsible for the badges of honor on the show. Because when I was talking to him back in 2017, he had just come in from work. And he had his helmet next to him while we were talking. And on his helmet with the stickers, and I asked him about it. He goes, "Phil, each one of those stickers represents a job that I've been on a pipeline that I've worked on, all around America. Each one of those stickers is like a badge of honor. You put it on your helmet, and that represents a job that you've done. Anybody sees that sticker, and they see that you've worked on that particular pipeline, they know you're the real deal. And that is a badge of honor." So I give him credit for inspiring the idea of the badge of honor.

In 2017, we really wanted him because he's just such a fun, lovable, big, powerful guy, you know, and then he got an injury. And he wasn't able to be part of the cast. And then as the seasons went along, the timing was just off. Until finally, all the planets aligned for season four, and we got our Jake. I love him. I'm just so happy he was able to be part of this.

<p>Cliff Lipson/CBS</p>

Cliff Lipson/CBS

Jorge Zavala – Concrete Form Setter

I love Jorge, because Jorge the future. This is the great thing about meeting young people. You look to the young people, and you remember yourself in your 20s. And you think about those people who were ahead of you, who were a little bit down the road. And you remember the enthusiasm that you had. When you see that in young people and you see that the world is in their hands, it's kind of a comforting feeling. It's like, "Wow, there's some really cool young people coming up. They're going to have an impact on the world." And that's the feeling I get with Jorge. He's got a young family. He's got great skills. He's had really good training. He's a proud young man. He's respectful. It's just good energy, good sense of humor. So I just love being around that kind of energy.

<p>Cliff Lipson/CBS</p>

Cliff Lipson/CBS

Larron Ables – Diesel Technician

I just spoke with Larron the other day. And he still calls me sir. And I'm like, "Larron, you can call me Phil. It's okay." He goes, "Well, no, sir. That's not the way I was brought up." So he still calls me sir. He's way more mature than his age. I mean, he's a wise 22 year old; he's a wise soul. He's had to take on a lot of responsibility at an early age. And he's very strong, one of our stronger competitors. But he's also very respectful of the fact that he's still building his knowledge that he is coming up in the ranks. And we have a few surprise guests this season. And there's one particular guest that he is most excited about meeting.

<p>Cliff Lipson/CBS</p>

Cliff Lipson/CBS

Laura Bernotas – General Contractor

Laura has been a coach at a college level. So very organized, goal oriented, a real motivational force. And right from episode one, right after the team pick, when we go into the first team challenge, she steps up and really makes her presence known. She lets it be known that she can be a leader, and that she can be a driving force in a team. And you see that straightaway as she asserts herself onto the scene very quickly. I'm super impressed with her. She's smart, obviously got the skills. But again, when you see a young person who's who can take charge like that and assert themselves like that in a positive way, and people respond in a positive way, it's great. It's great to watch. She's good sense of humor. You might see a few things smash in the first episode. (Laughs.) No one was harmed in the process. But it got off to a bit of a rough start here and there.

<p>Cliff Lipson/CBS</p>

Cliff Lipson/CBS

Mister Frost – Welder

In episode one, there's one of my favorite moments of the whole season with Mister Frost. I think a big part of it was by having his first name as Mister, it would always demand respect from people. Just like we talked about with Larron, by giving a first name of "Mister," it meant to kind of force people to be respectful to him. So I think that was kind of part of the motivation. Mister is extremely skilled, capable. In the very first episode, you're gonna see him shine. He's got that X factor where you want to watch him and you want to hear him. He's got a nice lilt to his voice. We knew as soon as we saw him, we're like, "Oh, we've got to have Mister on this show."

<p>Cliff Lipson/CBS</p>

Cliff Lipson/CBS

Renèe Kolar – Dry Mason

Well, her sons call her "Highlighter" for obvious reasons. Because she does look a little bit like a highlighter running around. I know that just recently she won an award for her business. She set up a business with her sons. She's just this ball of energy, just nonstop. I don't know what she's fueled on. A bubbly personality and a great teammate.

<p>Cliff Lipson/CBS</p>

Cliff Lipson/CBS

Sergio Robles – Foreman

He has leadership skills under his big tool belt. And you're gonna see that too straight out of the gate. He's used to running big teams. He's come up through the ranks. This is the great thing about becoming a journeyman or working your way through the ranks in your trade where you earn that respect from those around you. Sergio has a gravitas about him where you can tell he's earned that respect. He knows what to do. He's come under pressure; he's worked on some huge jobs. We've seen it before where contestants talk about driving past LAX and, or driving past the SoFi stadium, and there's that pride. He knows that there's a certain part of the SoFi stadium that he is directly responsible for. So he's a very proud man. He's very experienced and a very good leader. And you're going to see that right out of the gate from him.

<p>Cliff Lipson/CBS</p>

Cliff Lipson/CBS

Synethia Bland – Carpenter

She has a great line from the beginning. She says, "I'm here to prove that your past does not determine your future." This is a young person who got off to a bit of a rocky start in life. And through the help of others and sheer determination, she managed to steer her life into a different direction. And part of that included becoming a carpenter's apprentice. I think this is a good example of what so many aimless young boys and girls can look to for inspiration. There's a lot of these young people that can't afford to go to college. Maybe they're not getting the support that some kids have when they're at home from a parent or a relative who's there for them. There are a lot of kids who are alone, and they're directionless, and they don't know what to do. And the military is certainly one way to help young people because it gives them that discipline, and it gives them a culture that they can be a part of.

For Synethia, he never imagined that she would ever do anything like being a carpenter. But now she's a part of something she feels is special. She's really looking up to people like Sergio and Renèe, looking up to older people who have been around before in the trades, as a way to see where she can take herself as a as a young mother and continue to improve on her life. I think she speaks again to the depth of the story that we're really interested in on Tough as Nails. We like to dig in. We really put a lot of energy into our characters and and for the audience to get invested. We really care about these people. We understand these people. These people are us.

Next, find out everything you need to know about the upcoming season Survivor 44.