The Amazing Race: The Yak Chats with James and Mark

James LoMenzo and Mark “Abba” Abbattista

Leg Seven of The Amazing Race brought many surprises to not only the viewers, but to the racers, as well. We saw the six remaining teams make their way through Moscow, Russia, while learning that you don’t leave your personal belongings unattended in strange men’s vehicles. Unfortunately for James LoMenzo and Mark “Abba” Abbattista, they found out this lesson this hard way, when they were ultimately forced out of the race for not having passports to continue their journey. The Yak recently sat down with the two rockers to discuss their thoughts about traveling around the world, losing their personal items, and, of course, Team Twinnie.


The Yak: What’s tougher – the music industry or The Amazing Race?
Abba: It depends on your point of view because you get robbed in both of them. [laughs]
James: Well, you deal with a bunch of rats in both of them. [laughs]

The Yak: So, I have to know. Did you ever get to recover your bags and how long did it take you to get a replacement passport?
Abba: We’re still in Russia. [laughs]
James: They have a great TiVo system, so we get to watch the show only in small increments.
Abba: No, we never got the bags back. The taxi driver took off with them – stole them – and despite our efforts to try and track this person down in a city of 10-12 million people, we never did get them back. We exhausted all the remedies that we could. As far as the passport situation, this happened on a Friday and a Saturday, then Tuesday was the Independence Day for Russia, so all the government offices were closed down for the whole week. That made the whole matter even worse for us, but it didn’t stop us from trying. We were able to get a passport through the US Embassy, but then you also need a Russian Visa and that one was much more difficult to get because the culture of the Russian bureaucracy is not very flexible. We wound up getting stranded there for 6 more days after this happened.

The Yak: Well, you had a little down time to do some sightseeing then, right?
Abba: Well, yeah, if you consider seeing the inside of the embassies sightseeing, then, hey, yeah, we had a great trip! [laughs] We did the best that we could under the circumstances we had, and I had said to James at one point, “If we’d have won the leg, we would have won a trip, so let’s look at this as our six day, all-expense-paid trip to Russia together!” You gotta laugh to some extent. You can’t cry all day long, and we had a nice time and met some wonderful local people that were there with us. You know, you want to cry, but let’s go out and make the most of it.

The Yak: How do you feel now about the situation regarding the Sri Lankan twins taking your money and splitting it with Trey and Lexi?
James: I think it was an unfortunate thing. Personally, it’s disappointing to think that this is what happened. We had had nice relationships with [Natalie and Nadiya] all throughout the race, as well as Trey and Lexi, which were a little bit more shocking for me. You know, you kind of hope for the best and when you see something that isn’t that, especially after the fact, since we didn’t learn about it until it was on TV. At that point, you don’t move forward by looking in the rear-view mirror.
Abba: It was a great experience for us anyway, since we had to overcome the adversity of having no money and meeting all those really wonderful people in Bangladesh, who were more than willing to help us out by feeding us. We had a great experience because of it, so it was a negative turned into a super positive and one of the most memorable days of my life.

The Yak: Since you weren’t aware of Natalie and Nadiya and Trey and Lexi sharing your lost money, have you talked to them at all since the episode aired?
James: Oh, they’re dead. [laughs]
Abba: You won’t be hearing anything out of them anymore. [laughs] I’m just kidding!
James: I had a brief communication with Lexi and Natalie. They sort of explained their side of it, and I listened. It doesn’t change what happened, at least in my mind. I don’t condone it. I think they made a poor decision, and I expressed that to them. So, onward we move.
Abba: Well, we were convinced that we had dropped it in the van we were taking, so that was what we were trying to figure out. It’s kind of a weird relief to know we didn’t lose the money, but that someone had stolen it. [laughs]

The Yak: I think a lot of fans feel the same way you do about the two teams involved with the missing money.
Abba: You know, look, if you take the high road, there’s a lot less traffic. Also, the public outcry that has happened to them because of this is punishment enough. Those are their actions, and the result of their actions. The result of our actions was that we got an opportunity to meet a whole lot of unbelievable people in Bangladesh, and the generosity of those strangers that saved us that day is one of the golden moments of the whole race for both of us. I’m not just trying to blow sunshine up my own butt here, but it’s one of those things where it was something positive. It didn’t really affect anything anyway since we ended up beating the twins that day, so if there was some sort of “Ha-ha!” kind of justice internally with us, it was that we ended up beating them anyway. It had no impact on us because we chose not to let this impact us. Not that we knew that it happened, but we had a problem, we maintained our level-headedness about it, and ended up showing our grace and dignity throughout the whole race.

James and Abba search through the streets of Moscow, Russia

The Yak: After you were given some time to rectify the passport situation, were you hopeful that your time on the race might not be over?
Abba: We were holding on to hope the whole way. We kind of realized that it was the longest shot on Earth, but it’s kind of like when someone gives you a lottery ticket for your birthday. They’re really giving you nothing, but at the same time, you hope that you might win the lottery, so that was kind of where we were at. We were a little bolstered by the other adversity that we had overcome throughout the race, including getting through losing the money, so we thought, “It’s a long shot from hell, but we’ll take it, as usual!” What else could you do? It was an interesting experience. We got to see things that we probably never would have seen in Russia, and we’d already been there three or four times prior – mostly in jail. [laughs]
James: We were inside Russian jails. I got to spend several hours inside Interpol. I don’t know anybody else that’s ever done that. At that point, we knew it was pretty dim, but at the same time, it wasn’t over yet. We weren’t dead, so while we still had some breath, we were going to keep kicking with it and take everything in at the same time.

The Yak: Abba, given how bad your knee was, do you still think you could have continued the entire race?
Abba: Well, here’s what happened with my knee; I’m going to give you an exclusive. Are you ready for it?
The Yak: Sure!
Abba: Turns out, it wasn’t my knee. We thought that it was potentially the meniscus, and when I came home, I ended up having MRI’s and it turned out that I had fractured both tibias. So, I ran the race with two broken legs. Could I have done that Russian dancing thing? You know, I probably should not have been running or anything, and even now, I’m sitting while I’m speaking to you with these magnetic bone probe stimulators on. I’m still in a doctor’s care, and I’m still healing from this several months later. So, could I have done the Russian dancing? I wasn’t going to quit. I wasn’t there to quit, so it might not have been pretty, but I would have powered through it like I powered through everything else. I’d like to think that toughness isn’t the question that’s on everyone’s mind when it comes to me, but it wouldn’t have stopped me at all. We were running on cobblestones and on broken streets. It was awful from a pain point of view, but at the same time, Amy was there with no legs, so until they cut mine off, I thought that her story was more important than mine.

The Yak: Beyond the missing money, the stolen passports and your knees giving you trouble, what do you think was the hardest part of whole race was for you?
Abba: We haven’t been asked that one yet.
James: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. For me, going into this, my biggest fear was that I’d have to do some kind of orchestrated dance. I didn’t realize it would involve trying not to drown at the same time. [both laugh] So, that was probably the hardest moment for me.
Abba: I think answering this question might have been the hardest part of the whole thing. [laughs] No, I think it was dealing with the non-elimination from a personal point of view. I know it’s not kind of a sexy answer, but it’s sort of facing the humbling reality in front of 10 million people. I think being in a speedo in front of 10 million people with that silly cap on our heads – not that it was physically hard, but it kind of puts your life into a little weird perspective when you’re forced to surrender to something. It’s like you’re thinking, “I know I look ridiculous!” I know this probably looks somewhat foolish to people, but when you move ahead in life despite that fear or the fear that you’re going to look silly, that’s probably the hardest thing. Also, I think it was great being on camera. I think everybody should live a couple of days of their life on camera. Just to see what you really look like, and what you really sound like and how you behave. Plus, the facial expressions that you make. You’d be surprised. It may not be what you think you look like. I don’t think I really had a bad experience, you know, outside of the not winning, but I also learned, too, that not winning doesn’t mean losing. The first episode in Shanghai where Phil kind of gave us a bit of heat on the mat, it really changed me a bit along the way. That’s probably the competitive nature that I kind of had going into this, and realizing, we didn’t lose a million dollars that we didn’t have. We gained a trip around the world, which validated everything that we already felt towards each other, towards the world, and having a bunch of wonderful experiences added to the book of our life.

The Yak: Did you two do anything special to prepare for the race after you found out you had been selected?
James: We got right on training and watching the show. That’s pretty much what I would recommend everybody does.
Abba: Don’t suggest that!
James: Well, we want good competitors!
Abba: What if we ever come back, dude? Then, everybody will know what they’re doing!
James: Here’s what you need to do: get a box of Twinkies before they all go away because you’re going to miss those.
Abba: You never know – there could be a Twinkie-eating challenge.
James: That’s right, it could happen! [both laugh] I mean, we did the normal stuff: we got our cardio up, made sure that we were strong enough to carry your own weight around, maybe hanging from something or standing on something. I think it’s kind of obvious. It really is a grueling trek. Most important, though, is you’ve got to get your attitude adjusted perfectly because there’s a lot of exhaustion involved. The biggest part is making sure you have a mental reserve. That’s not something everybody can do.
Abba: I think a lot of preparation was involved because we both have families. We had to leave our children and wives at home. There was a lot of preparation that involved talking with my kids and my family, who were used to us being away because we tour a lot, but there’s no contact with them [while you’re on the race], so this whole time after they dropped us off at the airport, nobody knew where we were or what we were doing. For me, it was important that my family kind of had that. I missed my daughter’s eighth grade graduation. James missed his daughter’s high school graduation. You know, how do you prepare for that? We have well-balanced families that went through a lot, so that we could go forward and do this. That’s something that’s really special, and I think that they’ve come out of this just as balanced now that they see Dad on TV. Even last night, my son was crying because he didn’t want to know anything that happened, and he was sort of disappointed. You know, if I had something bad about the race, maybe it was that. Seeing my kid crying over this game. I didn’t really want that to happen. It really affects a lot of people beyond just the two people that you see on the show.

The Yak: Did you get a chance to get close to the other teams, and have you kept in touch with them since the race ended?
James: Yeah, I think we got close to pretty much all of them, with the exception of one that we made a choice about. The thing is that you’re not really with each other. When we won the two challenges in a row, we didn’t see anybody for three or four days because we won and we’re back in the hotel before some of the other teams even started. I think there was probably only two challenges that we actually did with anybody else in the room with us, which was the balloons and the ping pong. So, we had a tendency not to be with people. We didn’t have that sort of social element. I don’t think we had a social need, where it was kind of a sorority party where everybody got together and huddled around and braided each other’s hair. I’ve kept in touch with pretty much everybody. We’re part of this strange, little fraternity here. We went through a very life-altering experience and we only have each other to kind of relate that to. There was definitely camaraderie that’s out of that and some nice friendships with some of the people. Some of the people I went through my whole life not knowing them in the first place, and I’ll go through the rest of it not caring that I don’t know them in the second place.
Abba: I keep waiting for one of them to call me up, but they keep getting the time zones wrong.
[James and Abba both laugh]

The Yak: What’s next for the two of you?
Abba: I’m probably going to have a sandwich. [laughs]
James: I’m working on an album of music right now and a couple of other projects. I have my production company, where we do videos for music manufacturing, so I’ve got my hands pretty much full.
Abba: My business will continue to go on. I’m not quite sure. Every morning, I wake up and I’m not sure what’s coming. Then, every night I go to bed and I’m not sure what just happened, so this kind of situation isn’t much different for me.
James: You gotta get a job one of these days! You can’t keep living like this, man!
Abba: We’ll keep traveling around. I’ve got some tours set up for the beginning of next year, so I do a lot of traveling. This next week, I’ll be spending with my family because now that I’m not on the show, it’s quiet time. I’ll have a nice Thanksgiving and spend it with my whole family. I’ll just continue to decompress from this whole crazy experience we just went through. Who knows? There’s opportunity around every corner, so we’ll see what happens.

The Yak: We definitely appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. Best of luck to the both of you, and a very happy Thanksgiving to you and your families!
James: Thank you so much! You, too!
Abba: Thanks!

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