This week’s show opened with the competitors zooming down a fjord, Nærøyfjorden, in a speed boat. Their destination – Gudvangen! The folk enthusiast twinkled her fingers in the water and popped them in her mouth. ‘I taste my ancestry’, she said. Gudvangen is where her Norwegian family come from. She had always seen pictures and paintings, and heard stories of her origin but now she was ‘seeing and smelling it’. Gudvangen is a small village tucked in the fjord. It was a Viking settlement and has always been a special place of worship. The folk enthusiast’s great grandmother was baptised in the little church.
When the troupe reached the shore they were taken to their sleeping quarters – a Viking hut replica. The hut on the outside looked like a large Viking ship turned upside down. Inside, the beds lined the wooden walls and there was a fireplace in the centre. The room was dressed with reindeer skins, Viking tokens, and traditional tools and implements.
Outside, the wrestler challenged everyone to a real ‘Viking’ wrestling match. Bare-chested and fierce, he said ‘I feel like a Viking! Who wants some?!’ The surfer was game and did a running slap to the wrestler’s chest. Uh-oh – the game was on! Finally the surfer jumped on the wrestler’s back in true piggy-back fashion and won with a choking arm around the wrestlers neck. The whole play was rather similar to the movie Princess Bride where the handsome young hero had to use his wits against the muscled giant.
The show host called the gang together to the shore ‘Welcome, Viking hordes!’. (It was a little scary to hear that from a Norwegian that doesn’t pronounce her ‘d’s’ very well.) The day of challenges would be about ‘releasing their inner Viking’. The first challenge was a Viking boat race that ended with the contestants jumping into the freezing cold water and out to a Norwegian flag. However, this boat race was with oars and not sails, so the team with the most grunt should win (so you would think). The wrestler was on team B with the folk enthusiast, the opera singer and the surfer. The others were on the ‘gay power’ team. Team B jumped into their Viking row boat. In the palm of the wrestler’s hand a wet mud mixture was made. One by one team B spat into the wrestler’s palm. He mixed it all together to make mud paint. They painted their foreheads with symbols of strength (an ox). With the blow of a Viking horn the race was on. The folk enthusiast was the lead rower for team B. Her job was to set the pace. ‘Row-ah, row-ah, row-ah’ she chanted to help her Vikings. The wrestler and the surfer where pulling hard and then ‘CRACK’! The wrestler didn’t know his own strength. He had pulled so hard that his oar broke. With one man down, team B came in last. The ‘gay power’ team jumped in the water and snapped up the flag. When the contestants were asked what was the hardest part about the challenge, crickets sounded in the background. The cold water must have shell-shocked the winners. Eventually they said ‘Getting in the water’. After the competition, butts, arms and legs were sore.
Back in the Viking hut dinner was waiting – a pig on a spit. The opera singer mentioned that if she can eat a sheep’s face she can eat anything. The meal was served with home-made brew from Voss (Norwegian mooshine). Drinking from a bull horn, the gang layed around the fire while the surfer played his guitar and sang.
The next day the folk enthusiast got to visit the church her great grandmother was baptised in. With her sentimentality she said that in walking into the church she felt ‘soul stirring energy and deep meaning’ for her family.
The surfer had a scary night in the Viking hut. Every time he looked up at the fire the wrestler was standing with a log in his hand – ‘creepy’. The wrestler admitted he didn’t have a good sleep as he was too fixated on the fire.
The row boat winners made their matpakkas (for real this time) and headed to Skjevefossen, to a cliff face, for some abseiling next to a waterfall. The gay games medalist is scared of heights and almost felt himself flipping off the edge. While abseiling down he said he nearly passed out twice. The hunting videographer did the trip front first sliding down on his ‘ass’ – ‘I did it Texas-style’.
The losers gathered for their next elimination challenges. Truls Svendsen, a Viking descendant, supervised. Apparently his father’s, father’s, father’s, father’s father’s, father’s….. father had an aunt and her father was a real Viking. The troupe just smirked at each other. The aim of these next tasks were to bring out the ‘inner warrior’. They were about ‘determination, instinct and brutality’. The Vikings were known for their arrow skills and their killing. The first comp was to shoot an arrow into a grass target. The surfer sat out because of immunity. The wrestler realised he needed to use his ‘finesse’ rather than strength and this made him win the round.
The folk enthusiast and opera singer were left ‘to kill’, dubbing themselves as ‘blood sisters’. The opera singer was hoping that she was going to kill something ‘ugly, slow and dumb’ – anything cute would be too hard. The folk enthusiast rationalised the ‘kill’ into her heritage. ‘My grandmothers did it for centuries. This task will bind me to my mothers.’ They were lead to a chicken pen, their task: to catch a chicken, club it, put it on the ‘hogs stubber’ and chop the head off to eat it for dinner. The folk enthusiast was honoured as it was ‘what we’ve always done’. When she caught the chicken she pulled its head out like a pro to whack it and later declared ‘I felt my grandmother’s presence’. The opera singer said she just looked at the hen as a little robot to do the deed.
(The slaughter wasn’t shown on TV and I realised that odd imbalance of Norwegian censorship. The censorship of nudity, sex and swearing on tv is considered a crime against self expression but violence, especially with blood, is most often censored on national tv. In Alt for Norge the wrestler pashing a youth made the cut, however, the headless chicken was left on the cutting room floor.)
The opera singer was asked how she would feel about going home: ‘I don’t mind going home right now. I’ve experienced a lot of Norway…’ Silence. The cameraman waits. The opera singer’s eyes widen and she realises her defeated words ‘…but it would SUCK!’, she bursts out. Funnily enough, it turned out that the opera singer beat the folk enthusiast by 5 seconds. She certainly did not expect to win and her relieved and excited outburst was very endearing. The show host said it perfectly: ‘Who would have thought an opera singer from Chicago could kill a chicken in one minute and 20 seconds?!’
It was the folk enthusiast’s turn to leave Norway. I expected a more emotional send off but the editor left it plain. The hunting videographer hugged the enthusiast and said ‘from the bottom of my heart, you’re Miss Norway’. It was lovely words that rang true. With a big smile, the folk enthusiast started everyone off on one of her funny chants. Singing her farewell, she left down the hill still marching to her own drum.
That night the troupe had a chicken feast. The surfer could pick the opera singer’s chicken. It had been stressed by the drama and was therefore a little tougher. This week the Norwegian Spirit Award went to the person who ‘always loses but does it without complaining’ – the opera singer. (Funny – if she didn’t win this time she wouldn’t have got the Spirit Award for all her losing.)