Exclusive: James LoMenzo and Mark "Abba" Abbattista talk 'The Amazing Race' (Part 1)
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 11/19/2012
James LoMenzo and Mark "Abba" Abbattista were eliminated from The Amazing Race during Sunday night's broadcast of the CBS reality competition's 21st season.
The "Friends" team became the sixth team eliminated from the around-the-world competition after they arrived at the Race's eighth Pit Stop at Sokolniki Park's public performance pavilion in Moscow, Russia in last place. The pair's primary reason for finishing in last place appeared to be because they were forced to waste most of their time during the leg trying to find their stolen bags and retrieve Abba's passport in order to continue on, but they failed to get their hands on both of them.
In an exclusive interview with Reality TV World on Monday, James and Abba talked about their The Amazing Race experience.
Below is the first half of James' and Abba's interview. Check back with Reality TV World on Tuesday for the concluding portion.
Reality TV World: Do you have any idea how long you guys spent looking for Abba's passport?
Mark "Abba" Abbattista: That night, when we checked in initially with [The Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan], we had been sort of given the opportunity, like, "Listen, you can either quit or, because there's still teams out running there, technically, you're still in the Race. So what do you want to do?"
And I was like, "Well, that was an easy choice." So we wound up going and we went to kind of a big hotel chain to a concierge, we had police come in, we tried to fill out police reports -- it was a crazy long night.
And then the next day was kind of the same thing, where we had been inside of Interpol, we had been to several different police stations, we were filling out with the hope that maybe this guy got [feeling] guilty and threw the bag out a window somewhere and maybe just realized that there wasn't much in there or somebody found it -- who knew.
These were all kind of hopes, but that's all we had at that point. (Laughs) So we tried our best, and what happened was too that it was a Friday and a Saturday night, and the Tuesday was the Russian Independence Day. So because of the holiday, all the Russian government buildings were also closed that week.
We happened to run into something else, so it was just bad timing all around. So basically, it was our whole time. And then even afterwards, when we were eliminated, we still had to get home. I mean, this wasn't just a TV show. This was real life.
We had to get out of Russia, so we ended up going to the U.S. Embassy, it took a couple days to get a passport, and then we also had to go and get a Russian visa to exit the country. And the Russian Democratic system is not very flexible, so through a lot of pounding and perseverance, it was about six days before we got the visa.
Reality TV World: Could you explain why you couldn't check in without having both passports when you first got to the Pit Stop in fourth place but then were able to check in later? Is there a rule about that or could you at least talk about what explanation you were given?
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Mark "Abba" Abbattista: I can't explain that, and it was kind of weird because just this morning I was reading something online, and somebody asked that same question, like, "How come they were able to -- if the passport didn't make a difference when they came in on the final leg, why did it make a difference when they came in fourth?"
And you know what? I never even really thought about it until I read it. So no, I have no explanation. Looking back, maybe we should've been entitled to come in fourth. That might've changed the next day and our ability to maybe do something. I don't think so, I mean, I don't think that it had an impact. But that I can't answer. I don't know!
Reality TV World: Do you know whether the fact the next leg was taking place in the same country or the fact that the leg was a non-elimination was why you were allowed to check in and survive? Because when the same thing happened back in Season 15 with Zev Glassenberg and Justin Kanew lost his passport, and they weren't allowed to check in at all. They were immediately disqualified.
Mark "Abba" Abbattista: Yeah, but that was also because they had movement the next day. So because we had the second leg in Russia, we did not have a need for the passport on that first leg. Obviously we needed it for the second leg, and that was the cause for the disqualification. We couldn't move on. But we didn't need a passport to end that first leg.
James LoMenzo: Right, so theoretically when you check in and the next leg goes to a different country, I mean factually, then you have to have your passport to move on. So that's why we got that extra day out of it.
Reality TV World: Just to clarify a little bit, is it normal for Racers to leave their bags in a cab maybe because it tends to be the safe or easiest thing to do or was that just a case for you guys in which you meant to take them with you but forgot them? Because it seems like you're always taking a risk that your cab might take off even with your belongings inside.
James LoMenzo: Beth, that was a totally calculated risk. Throughout the whole Race, and I said this before, I kept telling [Natalie and Nadiya Anderson], "Look girls, you can't" -- because they kept leaving their bags in their cabs and made the cabs wait. So I said, "Listen, that's a bad idea. You never know if they're going to take off."
So clearly I was aware of that. When we got to the bridge with the "trees of love," we had found the clue box. We assumed that we were going to grab the clue and then get right back in and go. We had such a tough time that day getting cabs that we thought we were just going to grab the thing -- grab the clue and go.
So then when it turned out the challenge was taking place right there and we took an extra minute to set up the challenge, then we were like, "Oh jeeze, okay, get the cab and tell him to wait. Whatever."
And by that time, he had already gone. So, it was really weird because there was a moment when I was about to step out of the cab and grab my bag and I realized that Abba's bag was in the trunk, and so I was just like, "Ahh, we'll just grab the clue and then we'll come back."
So it was one of those fast decisions. It wasn't like -- it wasn't something that I would recommend anybody do during the Race. And again, I cautioned other people...
Mark "Abba" Abbattista: I'm going to go back and take a look at this, because I bet every single team did exactly that. Because the clue box was only like 50 feet away from the cab. You could see it very clearly. We had not paid the cab, and as soon as we got out of the car, he drove away. It was a conscious act and intent to steal our bag.
And that was the only time that had ever happened and we had ever left our bags. So I mean, it was just an odd situation. Why was my passport in the bag? Because we had come out of the pool. There were towels in the room with the pool but not in the locker room.
And when I came into the locker room, I didn't have a towel and all my clothes were soaking wet and I had my passport in my pocket, took it out, put it in the bag -- otherwise, it never would have been in the bag, and we would've been able to move forward. So it was just a very unfortunate sort of string of circumstances that really just kind of fell into a bad way for us that day.
But we got a six-day all-expense paid trip out of it to Moscow. Had we won the leg, we would've been getting the same trip, and so that's kind of what we view it as.
Reality TV World: Speaking of unfortunate incidents, during a prior leg of the Race, you guys accidentally dropped $100 and Natalie and Nadiya picked it up and stole it. They even admitted during the episode they knew it was yours, so what was your reaction when you found out it was actually another team who took your money?
Mark "Abba" Abbattista: Yeah, we found out by watching it that night on television. We saw it two days before or whatever on a commercial, and that was sort of news to us what had happened.
So you know, I wish it didn't happen from their point of view. I wish that they had made a better decision. We liked both of those teams. [Trey Wier and Alexis "Lexi" Beerman], it was pretty shocking that they went along and did that -- [split the money with the twins].
But you know what? We used it as sort of an opportunity to go, "Hey, you know what? We had a problem here." Looking back at it, the rearview mirror is probably not kind of the way that you learn how to drive -- by looking at pictures of car crashes -- it's too late at that point to make a decision. But we went about it level-headed.
We thought, "Okay, here's this problem." And we very successfully corrected that problem, and we had a wonderful day there with the generosity of these people in Bangladesh, and no other team go to experience the day that we had. And that was kind of the beauty of it. And if there was some kind of almost like a little bit of a "haha"-kind of vengeance, it was that we would have beaten that team anyway.
We beat the twins that day, you know? So yeah, you know, we got hit with a lemon and we made lemonade out of it that day. The next day we got hit with another lemon (laughs) -- We didn't have any water that day though. We just got hit with lemons. (Laughs) I don't know.
James LoMenzo: We made smoothies the next day. (Laughs)
Reality TV World: When I recently talked to Rob French and Kelley Carrington-French, they said that Natalie and Nadiya -- if not Trey and Lexi as well -- should've received a penalty of some kind for stealing your money -- maybe even going as far as eliminating them from the Race. Do you have any thoughts on that or what kind of penalty they should've gotten, if anything at all?
James LoMenzo: They should've been struck with a wet noodle. They didn't break any of the rules as they're written before the game. I mean, they basically picked up our money off the floor. It's more of a moral question then, because I'm sure production would've been right on that, you know?
Mark "Abba" Abbattista: There are rules that say they're not allowed to steal or vandalize any of the other teams' property. And apparently, the Race made a decision that this wasn't technically stealing, you know? And we were the only people in the room. There were six of us there and four of them were huddled around kind of dancing with money that they found.
It was a lot of U.S. dollars, and if we had been at [a] McDonalds, I think I would've felt a little differently about it -- [or a] Dunkin' Donuts I think they made a bad decision. I think that the public outcry sort of happened after that. It's just kind of the result of their actions, and you know what? Let them deal with it. And we didn't do that, so you know, we'll stay on the high road.
Above is the first half of James' and Abba's interview. Check back with Reality TV World soon for the concluding portion.