Viking: What inspired you to sign up for the show?
Todd Ferris: My aunt heard about it and thought I’d be a great fit. She told my mom, and I checked it out and thought it sounded cool. I applied for Season 2, and ended up getting a callback for Season 3. On the last day that we could send in an application for Season 3, I handed my wife our flip camera and just start rolling. We did four minutes of walking around the house. I sent in the video, and got the casting call.
V: Did you know much about your heritage prior to the show?
TF: My mom had done a tremendous amount of research. I didn’t necessarily know all of it. She wrote a book and detailed all of our ancestry. I had the book and never spent much time looking though it. Unfortunately, I didn’t know as much as I should. I knew a Norwegian prayer that we would say at our Christmas dinners. Outside of that, I knew my grandma’s name and a few other words. But that was all the Norwegian I knew going into this.
V: Where do your ancestors hail from?
TF: Selbu, Norway. My great, great grandfather and his father came over from Norway and settled in the South Dakota area. My relatives are mainly in Minnesota and South Dakota.
V: Tell me about the show.
TF: Our first scene was at Ellis Island, and we found some our relatives on the board. The next day, we flew to Sweden. We sailed from Sweden to Norway and landed in Holden. Filming started end of April 2012. We were gone for about two months. The whole show is sort of like the “The Amazing Race”—traditional and cultural challenges and learning about Norway. Slowly people were sent home based on the challenges.
V: What types of challenges did you do?
TF: The challenges ranged from physical to mental. One was a biathlon—cross-country skiing and shooting targets. We also did performance challenges, like singing Norwegian songs in front of an audience and having them vote. We memorized sayings and Norwegian words. The hardest one, which I didn’t have to participate in, was five different people would tell you a phrase in different dialects based on where they were from in Norway. You had to memorize the phrase in that particular dialect and repeat it.
V: What was the day-to-day experience?
TF: We filmed for four days and had two days off. We mostly travelled or explored our home base of Oslo on those days off. We got to know Oslo pretty well. I enjoyed it a lot. During the four days of filming, there was a lot of waiting. The cameras had to get set. We’d be filming from like 9 a.m.-7 p.m., but during that time there was a ton of down time. We’d make up games, and all of us contestants got pretty close. There were 12 contestants: six ladies and six guys from all over the U.S. From the day I left to the day I got back was 66 days.
V: What was it like being a way from your family?
TF: We weren’t able to communicate while being gone. My wife at the time was three months pregnant, and it was tough leaving. She was supportive and wanted me to go. The prize for one of the challenges that I won was a call home. This was about week 9. It was obviously a very emotional phone call once I heard my kids’ voices. The cool thing was I completely lost track of the days, and it turned out to be Father’s Day. We have twin four-year-old daughters, and our younger daughter is three months old now. She’s named Kaia. One of my tasks while in Norway was to find a baby name. The whole time I was 100 percent positive that it would be a boy. So I spent my time trying to find a Norwegian name for a boy, and on that phone call my wife said it would be a girl. I went back and looked through all the name books. That’s how we found Kaia.
V: Tell me about the moment you met your relatives after winning.
TF: It was crazy. I flew in on a helicopter and landed on a farm where they were waiting for me. It was an adrenaline rush. As we were flying in, I knew my family would be out there somewhere. There were 50-60 relatives that showed up! I wanted to meet them right away, but they had to set up the cameras for about 15 minutes. By that time, I had picked up enough of the language to communicate pretty well. There were a few ladies that didn’t speak any English. So they just came up to me and spoke Norwegian. I didn’t know what they were saying, but they didn’t seem to care!
V: What was the highlight of the experience?
TF: There were so many. The best was winning because I was pretty far behind. Meeting my family was a close second. Some of my fondest memories were off camera, like spending time with the crew and cast. For all the hours and hours we filmed, they can only use a few minutes. There were some really good times that people missed out on.
V: Did anything surprise you about being on a reality show?
TF: I went into it thinking it was like an American reality show, where you do everything you can to win. You’re not there to make friends. As you spend 24 hours a day with these people, you can’t help but become a family. The last thing you want to do is stab somebody in the back. You don’t want them to go home. It was always hard after our four days of filming to say goodbye to someone. It was surprising to me how tight we all became.
V: How has this experienced changed you?
TF: It’s made me more focused on my family and our heritage. I never took it very seriously before. Now that I’ve been there, met people and know more about the country, I have a truer appreciation for the traditions we have kept alive, and I will pass this on to my kids.