There is an old tale in Northern California’s Yurok Indian tribe about a Swedish sailor who came to America and married a tribal medicine woman. Follow that sailor’s family tree long enough — eight generations at least — and you’ll find Nate Butler, a local music, entertainer and soon to be Swedish reality-television star.
Butler, a card-carrying member of the Yurok tribe (he’ll show you) will be featured on the fourth season of “Allt For Sverige,” which begins airing on Sunday on Sweden’s public station, Sveriges Television. The show (Butler says the name roughly translates to “Anything For Sweden,” “All For Sweden” or “Everything About Sweden,” depending on who you ask) features 10 Americans with Swedish ancestry who travel to the country to learn more about their family trees, along with some local history and customs. They then compete in a series of games based on those customs.
The losers get sent home one by one. The winner gets a reunion with their extended Swedish family.
Of course, Butler is not much for American reality television. He watched half a season of “Big Brother” once, but only for the one guy who he thought was interesting. If this was an American reality television show, Butler wouldn’t have bothered applying.
“Swedes are not down with negativity,” Butler says.
They do find Americans amusing and endearing because we tend to be very public with our emotions.
The casting for the show is not done by body type or age either, Butler says. He’s 49. It’s based instead on the contestant’s story. Most are creative types. This season there is an opera singer, a script writer, a landscape architect and a barber. Producers do extensive research on each contestant, including an in-depth genealogical study, which becomes the basis for much of the show. Butler was amazed by the details he learned about his family while on the show.
“My mom pushed me into it,” Butler says. For this season, producers were looking for contestants with both Swedish and indigenous American ancestry, Butler says. They had reached out to several tribes, including the Yurok. He blew off applying until the day it was due, because he’s not the kind of fame seeker to indiscriminately try out for reality television shows. Also, he figured he’d never get picked.
“That’s like the lottery,” he says.
Though he can’t reveal any of the show’s details — like whether he won — Butler was in Sweden for more than a month filming the show and the experience got him thinking about his life. He is happy as a working musician who plays piano gig around town and is in at least two tribute bands (The Double Doors and The Beetles). But it’s been 15 years since he’s released any of his own material.
“There’s all these songs I have on the shelf, and in my head, and it just doesn’t get heard,” he says.
The show gave him reason to start recording again. He recently set to work on making a new album, with songs inspired by his time in Sweden. Half of the songs were written about his experiences on the show. Two were written during filming. Some of the songs will be released as online singles during the run of the show and the whole album should be out by the time the show has finished airing.
“I’m going to have hella exposure in Sweden,” Butler says. “I am hoping my fifteen minutes of fame will translate into some attention and possibly online sales.”