This Saturday, Norway's hit Emmy-winning reality TV show Alt for Norge (or, in English, "The Great Norway Adventure") will host an open casting call at the Mall of America for its fourth season.
The show is seeking adventurous potential contestants ages 18 and over who have Norwegian ancestry (even a small percentage counts).
The series follows 12 Norwegian-Americans who fly to Norway and immerse themselves in the Scandinavian culture, competing in a series of extreme challenges that test their skills and determination along the way. The winner receives a cash prize of $50,000 and a meeting with their Norwegian relatives, who are tracked down by a team of genealogists hired by the show.
The program is wildly popular in Norway, according to Joan O'Connor, a casting producer for Chicago-based O'Connor Casting Company, which handles all of Alt for Norge's casting.
However, O'Connor stresses that the show is not used as a way for Norwegians to laugh at Americans.
"It's not making fun of Americans -- some people are worried about that," she says. "It's a spirited show with a lot of heart; there's a huge emotional component. It's not about the people's relationships with each other so much as it is about the contestants' relationships with Norway."
Mary Hakes, who works in the admissions department at St. Olaf College, was one of the contestants on season two.
"It was, without a doubt, one of the most amazing things I've ever done," Hakes says. "We did things and saw things that I never would have been able to do on my own. We traveled all over the country -- adventure doesn't even begin to describe it."
Hakes stayed on for eight episodes, and was only one episode away from being a finalist. During her time on the show, she competed in cross-country skiing, downhill slaloming, a cursing-in-Norwegian contest, and an outdoor camping adventure, among many other activities.
"At the time, I was 53 years old and I wouldn't call myself an athlete, but I worked out diligently for about 2 months before," she says. "The most difficult part was the skiing, but I held my own."
Hakes says her fellow contestants ranged widely in age and profession.
"The youngest was 21 -- a ranch boy from North Dakota," she says. "There was a beautician, a model, a clothing designer, and I was the mom."
To this day, Hakes is still in contact with her fellow contestants.
"We have a secret Facebook page and we keep in touch all the time," she says.
Deborah Breberg, a 52-year-old insurance agent from the very Norwegian town of Dawson, Minnesota, was a season one contestant.
"I'm 50 percent Norwegian, and I like to make lefsa," she says. "[On the show] they coined my nickname as 'Sexy Lefsa.'"
Unlike Hakes who stayed on the show for months, Breberg was the second contestant to get kicked off her season, but she still managed to have fun.
"For one contest, we chased cattle down a hill. We also had a scavenger hunt where we were given a list of Norwegian words and had to buy everything on the list," Breberg says.
There was even a contest for making special Norwegian open-faced sandwiches, according to Breberg.
"Unfortunately, there were no lefsa-making contests," Breberg says.
The Alt for Norge casting will be held this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Mall of America Executive Center in the Boundary Waters Suite located on Level 4, East. For more information, visit www.oconnorcasting.tv/castingboard.