Alt for Norge
Her heart led her to Norway, and right into the living rooms of television viewers across the country.
Deborah Breberg of Dawson, best known as the owner of an insurance agency, mother and grandmother, made her debut on Norwegian national television as the "sexy lefse maker'' with a talent for quick-witted comebacks, a wonderful singing voice and love for fun.
Unfortunately, she might also be remembered as the second contestant booted from the original, Norwegian reality TV show "Alt for Norge'' (All for Norway). She turned red faced as the audience laughed at her attempt to sing a very well-known song by the Ole Ivars band "Nei, såtjukk du har blitt" or "No - So thick you have been.'' It's a tongue twister for English speakers, to say the least.
"I messed up the language horribly,'' said Breberg, laughing as heartily as had her audience.
Her failed attempt is probably the only regret she has for this seemingly out-of-character experience. She is otherwise known in Dawson as the "church lady'' for singing at so many funerals.
The eight-episode series was broadcast in Norway in May 2010, but the production occurred one year earlier in the midst of the 2009 Syttende Mai celebration. The reality show featured 10 Americans with Norwegian roots -- and an interest in learning about them -- in a reality TV contest where they also discover the real Norway.
"I'd say that my Norwegian friends viewed the show as extremely humorous because of the traditional Norwegian activities contestants would do,'' said Emma Volstad of Hanley Falls, a student at St. Olaf College in Northfield. Volstad was studying and living in Norway last May and was surprised to see an American from so close to home on her television.
Volstad's Norwegian friends (and the TV show's producers) also got lots of laughs poking fun at what Americans believe to be Norwegian, like eating lutefisk. "I never had it once while I was there,'' said Volstad.
By far, pizza is the more popular dish today in Norway, Breberg said she discovered.
She was also surprised to discover just how active and fit Norwegians are. They hike mountains and bicycle about busy streets as expertly (and frequently) as we slide our cars up to the drive-thru at fast food restaurants.
The Norwegians also love to let loose, and have made "Russ'' a tradition for 18-year-olds to go on a big party binge just before their high school finals.
Breberg got to try it all, from huffing and puffing down mountain trails to trying to chug down beers with young party animals. She wore what became her signature, cherry-red suit purchased years earlier from Sears while enjoying life to the fullest with thoroughly modern and fashioned-minded youth of Norway.
Breberg said she struggled with the mountain hiking, but otherwise she and her fellow Americans held their own. They had no trouble taking on the silliness that comes with reality TV and making things lively while surrounded by a people who are pragmatic and perhaps somewhat introverted by nature. "They were shocked by how out-going we were,'' she said.
Breberg was reading her local newspaper the Dawson Sentinel a few years ago when she saw a short piece about how Norway TV was casting for contestants for this program. She was among 1,000 who applied. She made the cut during an interview in Chicago just one block from Oprah Winfrey's studio.
"Do you smoke?'' the nicotine-loving casting agents for the show asked her. "Only in bed,'' she quickly replied, and watched as they caught the intended humor.
Breberg said her decision to apply for the show had much to do with life-saving, open heart surgery that both she and her husband had undergone.
"Life is short,'' she said. "If you can get the opportunity, why not?"
Besides, she told herself: "How bad can it be?''
She learned the answer when she and the other nine American contestants were dropped off by helicopter on top of a Norwegian mountain and started to rappel and hike. She also got a taste of how bad it could be when she got to dine on a Norwegian delicacy -- a cooked sheep's head, with the eyeballs intact and served for dessert. "Baaad,'' she said.
The Rømmegrøt, krumkake, lefse, spritz and klub she enjoyed in Norway all passed muster, but the open face sandwiches had a glaring flaw: They lacked the garnish of olives so common here, she said.
It was all part of 17 adventure-filled days she enjoyed in Norway at no cost as part of the cast.
The eventual winner won $50,000 and certainly lots of laughs in Norway. Breberg brought back plenty of memories, and the joy of having made many new friends.
She had to keep mum about the whole experience until it was broadcast, but had the joy of organizing her own after-the-fact "send-off" for the show. The Dawson-Boyd band and lots of townsfolk showed up for the occasion. Like true Norwegian-Americans who know her cooking, they cleaned off the plate of lefse she had made and was carrying as a prop.