HALLOCK, Minn. - It was an improbable romance between strangers in a faraway place.
Nathan Younggren was a 25-year-old farmer who raised wheat, soybeans and beef cattle with his family near Hallock. Victoria "Tori" Allen was a 28-year-old former ski bum and advertising rep who lived in Colorado.
He played rock music in a cover band, and she was a champion X Games rock climber.
The unlikely pair seemed a world apart last May when they arrived in Sweden to compete in the country's No. 1 television show, "Allt for Sverige." In search of their Swedish family heritage and a chance to win a family reunion, they didn't know what to expect other than adventure.
Tori: "We're just regular people."
Nathan: "Yeah, I'm the last person in the world who would have ever thought I should be on it."
Tori: "I applied the day before the deadline, and my mom actually applied for me. It was last minute."
More than 4,000 other Americans applied, but Nathan and Tori would be two of only 10 people chosen for the seventh season of the international Emmy-winning show that blends Swedish history with random minute-to-win-it challenges.
Ultimately, it took five weeks for both Nathan and Tori to lose the competition but only two weeks to win each other's hearts.
"We were the two real winners," Nathan said as the couple recently took time out from cattle chores to share laughs and their story.
Sunlight filled their home near the banks of the Two River as they rocked side by side in oak chairs covered in red leather. Nathan said the chairs were rescued from the Hallock Hotel years ago, but just like the couple, the chairs appeared as though they always were meant to be here together.
A fairy tale
Those who hear the Younggrens talk about falling in love in 14 days and getting married just seven months later might say it sounds like a script for the Hallmark Movie Channel, full of sweetness and happy tears.
But how does it happen? They weren't looking for love. That's not what the show is about. Yet both felt immediately drawn to each other.
"Tori and I were absolutely best friends from day one," Nathan said. "We got each other's humor right away, and that's not something everyone gets. We were pretty inseparable the whole time."
Tori agreed it was Nathan's personality that made her want to hang out with him during back-to-back days of intense filming and when they had days off to explore and meet the locals.
She recalled the first moment she knew she liked him. The jet lag hadn't quite worn off, and "everyone on the bus was fighting right away because they're just Americans and they're dramatic and they're bickering ...
"And Nathan goes 'Hey, hey, I'm going to get a tattoo that says chill out, what ya' yelling for?' He just says that right in the middle of everyone being nasty and passive aggressive."
She laughed again when he surprised everyone with the creepy old-man mask he packed from home-and again each time he made the tired joke about the crew taking "wide shots" for the people with wide-screen TVs.
"There were a lot of emotions in Sweden," Nathan said. And it was at dinner after a close friend had been eliminated when he first told Tori he loved her. He said he wasn't scared she would think he was going too fast.
"It was, what's happening? I don't know," he said. "It was kind of like speed dating, but more like Swede dating," he said as the couple laughed.
They paused then in their own thoughts as though reliving the moment.
"Two weeks in Sweden time (was like) we were together 24 hours a day," Tori explained. "Everyone who's ever been on this show says it changes you. It changes you completely because you're in the moment and you see your other life back home from a different perspective. Other things you used to think were important no longer are, and you start to make clearer choices."
Nathan had another overall perspective on the trip.
"I would liken it to a big, long summer 4-H camp," he said. "It's the best time ever and really fun, but it's for adults."
Through it all, Nathan and Tori knew they were falling in love. What they didn't know was that everybody else knew it, too.
"We always felt we were being so secretive," Tori said with a laugh.
Even after Nathan lost his final challenge, they tried to conceal it with a whispered goodbye. It's amazing what those microphones can pick up.
But they don't have to hide it anymore. It was soon after that Tori was eliminated, too, and just days later she would arrive in Minnesota. They were engaged in October and married on New Year's Eve during the regular Sunday morning church service.
The wedding was in traditional Swedish "lagom" style-not too much, not too little. Later that day, they had a dance and reception where they served, of course, Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, pickled herring, green beans, and rice pudding with lingonberries.
"It's been incredible. The whole town has been one giant hug," Tori said. "I get more texts from his mom every day than I do from my best friends. We're in Bible study together. We're in Quilting Club together. And then I'm coaching figure skating in town, so I just jumped into the community."
She and Nathan sing in the church choir together, and she's already fitting into the farm life, too.
She combined soybeans and baled most of the straw last summer.
Nathan and Tori could have dreamed of winning the big prize until the cows came home, but nothing could be better than these cows and this dream.
"It's the best thing ever living out here on the farm. I just love it," Tori said as she and Nathan stood among the cows. "I get to hang out with these ladies all day. It's hard work, but it's worth it."
How to apply
The show-also known as "All for Sweden" and "The Great Swedish Adventure"-does not appear on regular U.S. television. However, it sometimes can be found on YouTube.
Sofia Eng, a Los Angeles casting director for the show, says Saturday, Feb. 17, is the deadline for Season 8 applications, but she said she would roll over late applications into the next season.
"We get a lot of Swedish-Americans from Minnesota applying but not from North Dakota," she said. "We'd love to have some people from North Dakota apply for it."
Interested people can apply or learn more at www.greatswedishadventure.com.