ANDERSONVILLE — An Andersonville man is one of 20 finalists vying for a spot on "Great Swedish Adventure," a Swedish reality show that takes Americans with Swedish ancestry on a journey to connect with their roots.
James Morgan, 41, was notified via email this week that he is being considered for the show, which is called "Allt för Sverige" or "Anything for Sweden" in English.
Morgan is Swedish on his mother's side of the family. He was raised in an environment where Swedish culture was emphasized, but he said he grew more estranged from his roots as he got older.
"Now that I have kids, I see this is as kind of important,"said Morgan, who has never been to Sweden and has two sons, Jonah, 10, and Lukas, 8.
In "Great Swedish Adventure," contestants learn about the Swedish side of their family in each episode, with cast members eliminated along the way by competing in a series of contests. The last person standing is treated to a Swedish family reunion.
Morgan said he isn't exactly sure how his family in America grew so far from its Swedish side, but said at some point correspondence stopped.
His Swedish great-grandfather on his mother's side, who came to the country in the early 1900s, had a tough upbringing in Chicago and suffered turmoil in his household after the deaths of his wife and older brother, who both died from tuberculosis. Morgan's great-grandfather was working as a construction worker in 1943 when he died after falling from a harness. He had battled alcoholism as an adult and had a strained relationship with his children, including Morgan's mother, Morgan said.
He left instructions for family to take his remains to Sweden when he died, but his loved ones instead held on to them, said Morgan, who recently got permission from family to take his great-grandfather's ashes to Sweden if he earns a spot on the show.
"He wanted to be buried in Sweden, preferably in the sea," Morgan said. "But his ashes are in our closet, he never made it back to Sweden or to the sea. And I would hopefully be able to take him."
Morgan learned about the casting call in an advertisement on a Swedish American news website and applied in January.
To apply for the show, which pays for travel and board, Morgan made a video in Andersonville where he talks about its roots as a Swedish settlement, and was interviewed by a casting producer in the winter. Producers sent him an email earlier this week saying they would let him know in coming days if he makes the cut. The show would be shot in Sweden over the summer and air in Sweden in the fall.
Morgan worked as a general store manager for Pizza Hut for 23 years before losing his job in 2011. Now he's enrolled at Northeastern Illinois University studying to be an elementary school teacher.
He describes himself as "a pretty simple guy," but thinks he has enough personality for T.V. and is comfortable in front of cameras after being featured on various news broadcasts and in articles last year. He was one of the loudest voices of opposition to the closing of Lyman Trumbull Elementary school in Andersonville.
Morgan doesn't count himself as a reality show fan, other than his guilty pleasure: "The Biggest Loser."
After viewing a few episodes of "Great Swedish Adventure," he saw there was "no naked hot-tubbing" or fighting involved.
"It's about rediscovering your heritage," Morgan said.