Would-be contestants for a popular reality show gather at the ACT Theater to strut their Scandinavian stuff.
One woman brought a leather helmet she made herself, another brought a pipe from 1919 that belonged to an ancestor.
Mostly, though, they brought their winning smiles, broad cheekbones and blue eyes. The steady stream of inordinately tall people filing into ACT Theatre on Sunday morning were wannabe contestants of an Emmy-winning Norwegian reality show, “Alt For Norge,” featuring Americans of Norwegian heritage who have never been to the mother country and want to explore their roots.
Winners, in addition to meeting their Norwegian relatives, take home a cool $50,000.
The show is casting for its seventh season. Naturally, Seattle, with its many Scandinavian residents, is one of the three cities where O’Connor Casting held open casting calls. (One of the other cities is Minneapolis, you betcha.) Indeed, Seattle has fared well on the program, with seven total contestants hailing from the area. Seattle resident Doug Miner was the season-one victor.
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Sunday’s would-be contestants were called into the audition room in groups of four, and gamely answered questions by the brother-sister casting team, Joan and David O’Connor.
Among the hopefuls on Sunday was Jorgen Arnesen (height: 6 feet 2 inches or “somewhere around there,” he said) who found out about the casting from his mother, who saw it posted on My Ballard’s Facebook page.
The former Ballard resident (he now lives in Edmonds) estimated he was 90 percent Norwegian and had a large family — 50 people or so — but his exposure to his roots was limited to the holidays and “17 pound sweaters with a lot of awesome designs.”
The show would present a chance to change that. “I’d love to meet my great-grandfather’s family. He was one of 13 children.”
Another would-be Viking was Britt Rognes (height: 5 feet 10 inches), a blond woman hailing from — where else?— Ballard. While she’d done a lot of research into the Swedish side of her family, she didn’t know much about her Norwegian relatives on the other side. She’d found out about the show last year but couldn’t make it to the audition and hoped she’d learn more about her relatives.
Meanwhile, Heidi Braund (height: 5 feet 11 inches) was hoping that the second time was the charm; the Kenmore resident who said she was 100 percent Norwegian, auditioned last year. Last time she went with a video submission; this year she was trying the in-person route. While the $50,000 prize would be nice, she said, “I’d rather go for the experience.”
Given their heritage, it wasn’t surprising that the contestants seemed polite and charming. There were no outrageous personalities or crazy outfits that morning (though one gentleman tried to sell himself on his polyamorous relationship with his wife and girlfriend).
“They are an even-keeled culture,” said David O’Connor, who owns the casting company.
Those hoping for bloodthirsty infighting among the would-be Vikings will be disappointed, said Joan O’Connor. “It’s very much kind-spirited,” she said. “It’s not like an American reality show. It’s very much about their relationship with Norway, as opposed to sabotaging each other.”
Another hopeful, Kelly Snyde, of Bothell, (height: 5 feet 8½ inches — “I was the runt in the family. My dad was 6-6,” she explained) a third-generation Norwegian, came armored with props and research. Her family is from Risor, Norway, and settled initially in South Dakota. In addition to her ancestor’s pipe, she brought a genealogy chart mapped by her father, showing her family’s Norwegian history.
For Snyder, the chance to meet her relatives went deeper than a reality show.
“My dad was diagnosed with dementia a few weeks ago,” she said. “I feel like I’m on a race to try to get as much of the story now.”