Photo courtesy of Lars Phillips
Lars Phillips, Ballard born and raised, appeared in Season 7 of the Norwegian reality show Alt for Norge in 2016.

Ballard native gave his “All for Norway” for the experience of a lifetime on hit reality TV show

Lori Ann Reinhall, Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association

Upon first impression, one might think that Ballard native Lars Phillips is as American as apple pie: clean-cut, well-mannered, friendly and outgoing, with a smile that could win over the world. But after a few minutes in conversation, you learn that Lars is much more: he is as Ballard as lutefisk at Christmas, a product of our local Scandihoovian culture through and through. He attended Ballard High School, over the years he has attended more 17th of May parades than he can remember, and he even sponsors a Little League team called the “Ballard Nordics.” This is only natural since his parents also grew up in Ballard. They first met at James Monroe Middle School, graduated from Ballard, and then started properly dating after college. The couple identified strongly with the Norwegian roots and celebrated their wedding with a kransekake. It was only natural that when their son came along, they would name him “Lars” and bring him up on krumkake and lefse. Their next-door neighbors were ekte norsk, genuine Norwegians straight off the boat from the old country. But no one taught Lars to speak Norwegian beyond the phrases he needed to survive in the neighborhood, “Uff da” and “Hipp, hipp, hurra,” and the family never made it back to Norway together.

Lars was naturally curious about his roots, and when he read about a casting call for Norwegian Americans to travel back to the old country to appear in a new reality TV show called “Alt for Norge” (All for Norway) in the Ballard News Tribune, he jumped on the opportunity. He sent in an audition video, but in retrospect, he realized that he didn’t know what they we’re looking for. But a first-time rejection didn’t stop the intrepid Lars. When he heard that the show was doing an open casting call for Season 7 last year, he got right back in the ring, and this time he passed with flying colors. Soon he was bound for Norway, his homeland away from home.
Alt for Norge is all about teaching Scandinavian Americans about their ancestry and traditions, while giving the contestants a chance to meet their living relatives. A prerequisite is that the participants have never been to Norway but have a strong interest in connecting. They are there to learn what it means to be a “real Norwegian.” Lars was perfect since he had not had any direct contact with his relatives prior to the show. He knew that his parents had visited the family farm in Tvedestrand about thirty-five years ago, but that was about it. He had heard that they, like most Norwegians, were quite reserved, but very kind and down-to-earth people, so he traveled to Norway with high hopes and expectations.

Once in Norway, Lars was greeted with open arms by a very open and accepting people. For six weeks, the show took him on an adventure from north to south, and everywhere he went, he was deeply impressed by the hospitality he met. Each week, the Americans would break out into teams and go through a competition that would teach them about some aspect of Norwegian culture. Along the way, they “lived like kings”: they stayed in the best hotels when they weren’t camping along the beautiful Stavanger coastline and they feasted in Michelin Star restaurants. In a show that is designed as a “travelogue with an American twist” for local viewers, they got to travel to parts of Norway that many Norwegians have never seen. Sometimes their experiences were a bit out of the ordinary: they attended goat cheese festival, in the fjord villaged of Stryn they spent the night in animal hides, Lars finally got to celebrate Syttende Mai in Norway, and they went as far off the beaten track to Vardø, north of the Arctic Circle. It is by no coincidence that Alt for Norge is called “The Great Norwegian Adventure” for English-speaking audiences. And when Lars was forced to leave the show when he was unable to recite a Norwegian tongue twister, his adventure was by no means over. Having earned $100 a day during the filming, he decided to use the money to travel through Europe and the Mideast, going as far as Cairo and Luxor.

When I asked Lars how the show had changed his life, he didn’t hesitate that it was the people who had made the biggest impression on him, that “there are nice people everywhere you go.” He learned that Norwegians are the happiest people in the world and admires their extremely positive outlook, and in the end he was prouder than ever to be of Norwegian heritage. He was impressed by the Norwegians’ great national pride and willingness to help each other, and of course, he found the women to be “stunningly beautiful.” Lars also became close friends with many of the other Alt for Norge alumni, many of whom live right here in the Pacific Northwest. With so much in common, no one really gets homesick on the show, and the connections are so strong, that two alumni friends are now happily married to each other in Olympia.

For Lars Philips, appearing on the reality show was the chance of a lifetime, but his Norwegian adventure is far from over. While his relatives there saw him on TV, they didn’t get a chance to meet in person, and Lars wasn’t able to buy himself a bunad, a traditional Norwegian folk costume, so he is planning another trip back this year. In the meantime, the University of Washington graduate has managed to pass his exams as a Chartered Financial Analyst and Certified Financial Planner and his working as professional financial planner in Bellevue. With Alt for Norge, Lars Philips was able to live out his Norwegian dream, and now he is living out his greater dreams and aspirations, following in the footsteps of his great role models. Like Phil Keoghan , the host of the Amazing Race, he is reality show star in his own right; like Jack Bogle, the CFO of Vanguard, he is doing well in the investment industry; and like Rick Steves, he is going to “keep on traveling.” It will be interesting see what’s ahead for the young and upcoming Ballardite who gave his “all for Norway”—and we wish him well on his journey.

Meet Lars Phillips at the Leif Erikson Lodge Kaffestua, 2245 NW 57th Street, on Saturday, April 8, noon – 2:00 pm, when he will share stories and video snippets from his appearance on the hit Norwegian reality TV show Alt for Norge. For more information, email the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association: seattlebergensistercities@gmail.com.

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