Island woman competes in Norwegian reality show

When Whidbey resident Jennifer Swenson travelled to Scandinavia to compete in a popular Norwegian reality show, she made one thing clear in the first episode — she wasn’t leaving “over f—ing lefse.”

Her mic’ed expletive and declaration proved popular among viewers of the show, “Alt for Norge,” and, in fact, she completed making the traditional Norwegian flat bread and won the round.

“People thought that was fantastic,” said Swenson.

The Oak Harbor native was one of 10 Americans cast in the most recent season of “Alt for Norge,” which means “all for Norway” and is the royal motto of the country. The show’s contestants each have Norwegian heritage and compete for a chance to learn more about their family and meet their living relatives.

The last episode of the Emmy-winning series airs Monday, Nov. 11, but it doesn’t play on American channels.

Last October, Swenson learned about the show’s Seattle casting call seeking Norwegian Americans who were passionate about finding more about their family history but knew very little. In December, she found out she was one of the finalists among applicants from around the country who would be flown to Chicago for another audition.

Swenson, who describes herself as looking like a viking, fit the bill. By February, she was flown to Loen to begin her journey.

“Norwegians love watching Americans make fools of ourselves,” Swenson said with a laugh.

In the first competition, she was tasked with making lefse outside in what turned out to be a strong windstorm.

“Every time I was rolling it out, the wind would blow it off the griddle onto the ground,” she said. “I was getting so frustrated.”

That’s when she, forgetting about the lavalier mic pinned to her shirt, told herself the soft bread would not mean the end of her journeys.

As a prize for winning the round, Swenson was taken to Fresvik to her ancestral farms.

“I got to see two homesteads where my ancestors came from, and it was incredible,” she said.

She also got to watch a video message from her cousins who live in the country, cheering her on.

During the show’s filming, she and other contestants were taken through small villages along the fjords, on a skiing expedition with famous adventurer Aleksander Gamme and in a parade through the streets of Oslo on Constitution Day. The crew was even seated directly in front of the country’s royal family.

“It was super surreal,” she said.

However, during the cross-country ski trip, Swenson had fallen hard and later found out she’d fractured her tail bone. She was in a lot of pain and had limited mobility by the time the next competition came around.

The game was similar to musical chairs, but contestants had to hold a balloon between their knees.

“The second I found out it was running with a balloon between our legs, I knew I was going home,” Swenson said. She correctly predicted her fate, and she was soon sent back to the states.

She appeared in the first four episodes, which aired at the end of August and in September. She left with a detailed family tree, compiled by the show’s researchers. She said there were many things her father, who is the one with the Norwegian genes, didn’t know either.

She has also maintained contact with her cousins, whom she intends to someday visit.

Swenson grew up mostly living in Canada with her mother, far from her father who lived in Colorado. Because of this, she didn’t know many of the family traditions or history.

“It was kind of just an empty chapter of my life that I wanted to find out more about,” she said, “and boy, did I ever.”

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