They were forced to hand over all of their money and credit cards, rarely slept or ate and couldn't tell anyone where they were or what they were doing as they traveled by boat, plane, foot or whatever means possible throughout several countries while being chased by their competition.
And Russell and Cyndi Kalenberg would do it again in a heartbeat.
It's been a week since the Kalenbergs, who live in East Gull Lake, became the fifth of 11 teams eliminated on CBS's "The Amazing Race," a reality-based adventure show that airs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays. The television show was taped in January, but last week's episode was the Kalenbergs' last show in which they were in competition for the grand prize of $1 million. They will appear on the show's final episode set to air sometime this spring.
Russell, 46, and Cyndi, 45, serve as senior pastors at Agape Christian Center on Highway 371 north of Brainerd. Their competitors on "The Amazing Race" good-naturedly nicknamed the couple "the Preachers" and the "Holy Rollers."
They appeared on CBS's "The Early Show" and ABC's "Rosie O'Donnell Show" Thursday and have been interviewed by various media outlets, including "TV Guide" magazine. This week they are scheduled to be interviewed from their home by radio talk show hosts throughout the country, and radio stations in Canada and Singapore.
But starring in a reality-based national television show wasn't as glamorous as it sounds.
"It was not a vacation, let me tell you," Russell said about "The Amazing Race."
They started in Las Vegas, then traveled to several exotic destinations, including Brazil, South Africa and Thailand, but they had to race the other teams to each rest stop. The last team in was eliminated from the show. The first five days of the race Russell said he and Cyndi got a total of about eight hours of sleep. At each rest stop they had only 12 hours to rest. That time also was spent taping personal interviews for the show and catching up with the other team members.
They were only given small amounts of money at a time, which were to be used for food and travel, so they saved their money for taxis and other transportation. Cyndi packed Russell dozens of energy bars, which they mainly lived on. One night they decided to splurge and shared a chicken dinner.
They slept in communal living quarters with the other team members and wore microphones at all times. A camera operator and sound technician traveled with each team along the journey. Each team was responsible for booking flights and making travel arrangements for their personal crew as well.
Last summer Cyndi talked Russell into trying out for CBS's "Survivor" show. They made a 3-minute tape showing why Russell would make a good "Survivor" cast member. They taped him at his home, his church and riding on his Harley-Davidson. It was the notion of a pastor riding a Harley that caught the eye of "Survivor" producers. He was called to try out at the show's semi-finals in Chicago, but producers decided not to cast him. Russell said he was told he was "too nice" to be on the show.
But in October, the Kalenbergs received a call from producers of "The Amazing Race," asking whether they'd both like to audition for the show. They watched an episode from the first season of the show and decided to do it.
They flew to Los Angeles for auditions and intelligence and psychological testing and were cast for the show. The catch: They couldn't tell anyone except their immediate family what they were doing when they were gone. The Kalenbergs and their family members who knew about the show had to sign $10 million confidentiality agreements, forcing them to keep quiet.
They told their congregation in early January that they were leaving for an all-expense paid trip that would be a positive and exciting experience for themselves personally and for the church. They said they would tell them where they were once they returned near the end of the month. The Kalenbergs lined up guest speakers for their Sunday services.
They were told to pack clothing for hot and arctic cold temperatures, though they later learned they didn't need the warm layers of clothing that they hauled on the trip from Minnesota.
Long before they embarked on the race, the Kalenbergs knew they weren't going to compromise their values and beliefs for the television show. They made an alliance with fellow cast members and twin brothers Shola and Doyin while trying to find a flight to Capetown, South Africa. Each team agreed to work together to find a flight that would allow the four of them and their four television crew members on board. At one point, the Kalenbergs were able to find four plane tickets, only enough for their own team and crew. They passed it up and kept searching for the eight tickets.
"We knew we couldn't compromise," said Cyndi. "Our reputation is worth more to me than $1 million."
They found eight tickets but four were to fly standby from London to Capetown. Cyndi and Russell agreed to stay behind in London while the twins flew ahead to Capetown. The Kalenbergs came in eighth that day and were nearly eliminated.
Several adventures they faced were physically challenging. In Namibia, the couple climbed a sand dune and slid down the dune while laying on their stomachs on pieces of board.
"I got so excited going down the sand dune that my mouth was open," Cyndi recalled, laughing. "I was coughing up sand for days."
The Kalenbergs time on the show ran out after they got lost in the streets of Bangkok, Thailand, walking about 6-7 miles out of their way in the humid and hot weather to reach their destination. Since Russell had carried both of their backpacks that day and completed all of the previous "Road Block" challenges, Cyndi said she decided to volunteer to retrieve their final clue in a cave. The challenges are meant for only one team member. That player must be decided before the challenge is attempted.
Cyndi walked into the darkened and foul-smelling cave with a flashlight and felt droppings falling on her. A wave of her flashlight revealed they came from bats perched above. Large cockroaches climbed up her legs. She ran out of the cave once, then returned to complete the mission. Once the television production crew turned on the production lights, the bats flew around her, hitting her in the head.
"The bats swarmed me," said Cyndi. "They dove for me. I buckled over and screamed."
That night the Kalenbergs were eliminated from the show. It was a relief for it to be over, said Russell, who wanted to take a shower and sleep. They were taken to a lavish hotel in Bangkok that night. When Russell was in the shower, he heard Cyndi let out a scream.
"I was taking off my shoes hours later (after the bat cave) and this huge, dead cockroach was attached to my big toe," she said.
They spent two days at the hotel before being taken to "Sequesterville," an unnamed resort they and the other eliminated teams stayed at until the race was over. They aren't allowed to reveal where it was until the final show is aired. There are 13 total episodes. Tonight is the show's sixth show.
"The finish is incredible," said Russell, which is all he can say about the show's final episode.
Since "The Amazing Race" began airing Feb. 11, the show has been watched by the approximately 175-200 church members who stay after the 6:30 p.m. Wednesday church services to watch their pastors on the church's large projection screen.
Before each show, the Kalenbergs give a behind-the-scenes glimpse into what went on during the previous week's episode. They said the public is invited to attend. They'll be speaking about their final show tonight at the church after the church service and before the 8 p.m. television show.
"We've been really blessed at how much support and encouragement the community has shown us," said Russell.
People throughout the Brainerd lakes area have recognized them from the show. When the couple was in Manhattan last week, New Yorkers knew who they were, too, calling them "the Preachers." Talk show host Rosie O'Donnell surprised them with a seven-day cruise to Bermuda, which they'll use next fall.
The Kalenbergs said they stay in contact with the other "Race" team members via e-mail. In fact, twin brothers and fellow cast members Shola and Doyin, from Albany, N.Y., plan to visit this summer.
While they'd like to revisit some areas they traveled to during the show, like Capetown, they have no immediate plans to travel.
"I'm kind of traveled out," said Russell. "It's good to be home. We live on one of the best places on the planet, no doubt about it."
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