Stephen and English King had only just begun fleeing from their vacation home in Garden City, South Carolina, but they already found themselves stranded in the pouring rain, desperately searching for shelter as fugitives on the run.
In a black Chevrolet Suburban in nearby Myrtle Beach, ex-FBI agent Maureen O’Connell and former Secret Service Evy Poumpouras were on the hunt for the Kings, listening intently for instruction from Sgt. Ryan Phillips at the Command Center.
Phillips, SWAT Commander at the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, has been in law enforcement for 17 years, spending much of that time hunting down fugitives who have broken the law. He’s recently become more well-known for successfully hunting fugitives who have done nothing wrong.
As one of 32 investigators on the new CBS show Hunted, which airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m., Phillips serves as Operations Supervisor. He and 31 others are responsible for hunting down nine pairs of fugitives who have 28 days to try to stay hidden in a specified region of the southeastern United States.
If a pair of fugitives can avoid being caught for the four-week period they’re on the run, they win $250,000. There’s not the same monetary compensation on the line for Phillips. But for him, what’s at stake is worth so much more.
“Even though it’s a game, I didn’t plan to treat it as a game,” Phillips said. “I wanted to represent not just Fayette County but law enforcement as a whole in a positive light and have fun with it.”
Phillips, better known as Ry-Phi on the show, nearly forgot the cameras were on him early on during the show’s taping. He said he worked well with the other investigators, so much so that he felt like he was right at home.
“For me, I treat it as if they were fugitives because I’m competing against myself,” Phillips said. “I went into autopilot, went into work mode, and did my job.”
Phillips said he first heard about Hunted from a friend from Georgia State Patrol, who convinced him to try out for the show. He not only had the qualifications, but also the dynamic personality the show was looking for. Everyone from Fayette County, including Sheriff Barry Babb, was supportive of Phillips going on Hunted and giving a good reputation to law enforcement.
Five episodes in, Phillips hasn’t wasted any time. While some of the fugitives have thought up cunning plans to evade law enforcement, Phillips and his team have always made sure to stay one step ahead.
“You want to test yourself and see how hard you can push yourself because, at the end of the day, your desire to catch the fugitive has to be greater than their desire to get away,” Phillips said. “And that’s how you’re successful at catching someone.”
Phillips said he doesn’t know whether Hunted will bring him back for future seasons, but he wouldn’t mind playing the role of a fugitive on the show. He said one of his ideas for a season is Cops vs. Cops, where law enforcement is out trying to catch the people who have done their job.
“I would definitely make a great fugitive,” Phillips said.
Phillips’ attention to detail was showcased on the latest episode of Hunted, when he exhausted every possibility of where the Kings might have run off to.
He peered at the weather radar in the Command Center, and the state of South Carolina was covered in green with splotches of orange and red. Phillips learned the Kings were traveling without a vehicle, so he tried to think of what the fugitives were thinking.
“I find it very interesting they left on foot,” Phillips said to the former FBI and Secret Service agents on the phone. “Was their friend picking them up? Were they going to a local bus stop? Did they call an Uber? That’s going to be tough with the weather right now.”
Before he hung up the phone, Phillips assured the team he would work tirelessly — almost as if the fugitives had actually broken the law — to ensure the couple was caught. He doesn’t know any other way.
“We’ll work every angle,” Phillips said.