Alt for Norge: Exploring Norway one challenge at a time

Photo courtesy of TVNorge The first episode of Alt for Norge took participants to the famous Preikestolen, among other scenic parts of Norway.

Photo courtesy of TVNorge
The first episode of Alt for Norge took participants to the famous Preikestolen, among other scenic parts of Norway.

Molly Jones
The Norwegian American

Looking for life’s next great adventure? Well, if you’re an American with Norwegian heritage who has yet to visit the motherland, you could join the growing list of Norwegian Americans who have competed on TVNorge’s reality series Alt for Norge.

Named after the country’s royal motto, Alt for Norge follows 12 Norwegian Americans who travel to Norway for the first time and participate in a series of uniquely Norwegian challenges, ranging from cross-country skiing to black metal performances.

Six seasons have aired since Alt for Norge debuted in 2010, and the seventh is currently underway. Each season, the Norwegian Americans are eliminated from the competition one by one until the host awards the final contestant with the grand prize of $50,000 and the coveted opportunity to meet their Norwegian relatives. Up until now, the friendly and cheerful Henriette Bruusgaard has served as the host, but another experienced program leader, Fridtjof Nilsen, will take over for the new mother in the upcoming season.

“The passion and heartwarming humor of the Americans makes one rediscover their own country through them. It’s going to be a completely fantastic trip for the Norwegian Americans, viewers, and perhaps most of all for me,” says Nilsen of the opportunity.

But what is it actually like to be one of those Norwegian Americans exploring Norway one challenge at a time? To find out, I spoke with four former contestants: Doug Miner of Season 1; Josh Svare, Season 2; Jessica Brustad, Season 3; and Scott Wallingford, Season 6.

Photo courtesy of TVNorge Jessica Brustad (right) with some of her fellow season 3 contestants and the show’s former host, Henriette Bruusgaard (center).

Photo courtesy of TVNorge
Jessica Brustad (right) with some of her fellow season 3 contestants and the show’s former host, Henriette Bruusgaard (center).

Their reactions certainly differed upon first learning about the “Great Norway Adventure,” as it is marketed in the U.S.

Miner came across the casting call in a bout of extreme boredom during a snowstorm. He hesitantly created and submitted a video, but wasn’t sold on the idea just yet—especially since there were no previous seasons to look to.

Svare, on the other hand, was ecstatic to learn about Alt for Norge. “They made a show for me. There’s no way I wouldn’t get on it,” he thought upon discovering the casting call on Craigslist. And it turns out he was right!

Despite their Norwegian heritage, most of the contestants knew very little about the country and its culture going in to the competition. Wallingford notes that they were asked to refrain from learning the language and culture before the show began, and he arrived in Norway knowing no more than a few basic phrases like “hei” and “tusen takk.”

“I knew uff da, lefse, and Oslo, and that was it,” said Miner.

Nevertheless, the majority felt a deep connection with the country and their ancestors upon arriving in Norway. “It felt familial,” said Miner, who knew by the third day that he had made the right decision to apply for the show.

Svare felt an incredible bond to his Norwegian ancestors as he read the journal his great-grandfather wrote on his return to Norway, especially when he read about his great-grandfather’s first train ride in Norway while riding the train for the first time himself.

Photo courtesy of TVNorge On hearing of Alt for Norge, Josh Svare of season 2 said, “They made a show for me.”

Photo courtesy of TVNorge
On hearing of Alt for Norge, Josh Svare of season 2 said, “They made a show for me.”

Brustad arrived in Norway with a naked eye, without any expectations, and was completely blown away. “It was the most beautiful country I have ever seen in my entire life—and I’ve done a lot of traveling,” she said.

Although every destination felt like a new favorite, Brustad especially enjoyed meeting the Norwegians in rural communities, who reminded her of her own family. When she was presented with a song that her great-grandfather had written, she noticed that it was just as relevant to her family now, many years later, and she was touched by how strong the ties are through the generations.

It’s not a simple task to win the competition and meet one’s Norwegian family face to face, though. Each season, the Norwegian Americans face a variety of difficult challenges.

And throughout the years, many changes have been made to the show—especially the types of challenges. Miner was glad that Season 1 included visiting many different locations in Norway with a good mix of cultural activities. “The best of both worlds,” he said. His favorite challenge was cross-country skiing in Svalbard because of the incredible location.

Nevertheless, he feels that almost all of the changes over the years have been positive. “I wouldn’t change my experience for the world, but they have made improvements,” he said.

Svare’s favorite experience was the fishing challenge; even though his pole broke, he was able to catch the biggest cod of the day with his teammate’s help. He certainly felt accomplished upon learning that his fish fed the whole crew.

According to Svare and Brustad, Season 2 focused more on these types of physical challenges while Season 3 was more culture-based. While Brustad understands why this shift was made—it made the challenges fairer—she admits she is jealous of the physicality of Season 2. Another big shift occurred here, as Season 3 was the first season in which the Norwegian Americans received packets containing information about their ancestors, a feature that allows the participants to experience a deeper emotional connection to the country.

Photo courtesy of TVNorge Scott Wallingford of season 6 encourages everyone to "clear their head and get ready to be shown the way."

Photo courtesy of TVNorge
Scott Wallingford of season 6 encourages everyone to “clear their head and get ready to be shown the way.”

Each week, the participants at the bottom of the competition must compete in the elimination challenge, and therefore some partake in more challenges than others. Holding the record for the most challenges is Brustad, who faced these elimination challenges every single week. At first she was discouraged, but then she changed her perspective: she was getting to experience the most!

Brustad was also thankful that Alt for Norge aimed to present them as they truly are, rather than editing them to fill certain roles or create drama, as is common in American reality TV. Sharing a passion to connect with the land of their ancestors, the contestants supported each other and built friendships, resulting in an overwhelmingly positive experience.

As a result of sharing such a life-changing experience, many of the contestants of past seasons have stayed in touch, creating a unified community. The show has resulted in multiple romantic relationships, including that of Brustad and Svare. The two of them take Norwegian classes at the Nordic Heritage Museum and have traveled back to Norway multiple times.

“I was always told that I was a ‘strong Norwegian woman,’ and I was proud, but I didn’t really know why,” said Brustad, who now heartily embraces her Norwegian heritage.

Although Miner won Season 1 and had the chance to meet his ancestors during the show, he found that the time following the show has been even more beneficial for connecting with his Norwegian family. He has also become involved in the Norwegian-American community, touring Sons and Daughters of Norway lodges and attending the Syttende Mai parade in Ballard each year along with other Alt for Norge contestants.

Following his recent season, Wallingford reached out to his family in Norway and is looking forward to returning to meet them and embracing the Norwegian culture even more. He describes Alt for Norge as one of the best experiences of his life, and enthusiastically encourages everyone to give it a shot: “I would tell them to clear their head and get ready to be shown the way.”

This article originally appeared in the July 1, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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