Meet Dylan Ratell, Season 7 Winner of Reality Show Allt för SverigeFebruary 2, 2018
It’s not every day you get to travel to a new country and learn about your family’s heritage.
Each year, 10 Americans get that opportunity when they’re selected to star on “Allt för Sverige,” a popular reality television series where Americans with Swedish ancestry compete through a series of challenges as they discover the land and cultural roots.
Last season, the successful show’s seventh, Michigan native Dylan Ratell gained reality TV stardom and a Swedish family to boot when he won the competition.
Being in the spotlight always has come naturally to Ratell, who stars as Mary Sunshine in “Chicago The Musical.” As a teenager, he performed in high school musicals and with the Bay City Players, a Michigan community theatre, and continued performing in live theatre throughout college. Ratell graduated from Kent State University in 2014, just six months before signing his first contract to play the role Mary Sunshine.
After a nudge from his uncle, who was a contestant on the show in the first season, the theater star shifted gears to make his television debut.
“[Allt för Sverige] was such a different kind of experience, and my biggest challenge was the competition itself,” Ratell said. “It was tough spending weeks with castmates – people I started to get close to – and then have to set my feelings aside when it was time for another challenge.”
Ratell worked hard to keep his spot, and as the show progressed, so did his connection to Sweden.
Falling in love with – and in – Sweden
When he first arrived, Ratell described the drive from the airport to the hotel through the Swedish countryside as looking just like the Michigan farmlands where he grew up. He was touched that being in Sweden felt so familiar.
“I walked into this experience knowing nothing about Swedish culture,” Ratell said. “But I found that a lot of behaviors and tendencies of my family were very similar to the people I met along the trip. In fact, a lot of us on the show felt like we fit right in.”
During production of the show, cast members were given days off to explore different cities and towns. In Stockholm, Ratell enjoyed roaming the big city, learning the culture, people’s lifestyles and more: He truly felt he belonged.
“Everyone in Stockholm really does follow this lagom lifestyle,” Ratell said. “During those few days in the city is when I realized I really wanted Sweden and the people there to be a mainstay in my life.”
Stockholm’s big-city feel, yet friendly, small-town vibe, was enough to draw Ratell in. But he fell for more than just the city.
“A cast member from Season 6 connected some of the contestants and I with his friend in Stockholm to show us around,” Ratell said. “And I ended up falling madly in love with him.”
Behind the Scenes
As the show continued, Ratell tried to visit Stockholm and his new love interest during days off. But when filming picked back up, there was the likely possibility he could lose the next challenge and get booted off the show. Each time the two parted ways, they didn’t know if that would be the final goodbye before Ratell headed back to the United States.
In the fourth episode, Ratell lost a challenge and was supposed to be sent home. But contestant Kristin Lancione gave Ratell her the “immunity” she won in the previous episode and went home in his place, giving Ratell more time in Sweden and with his new love.
“As far as the cameras were concerned, it was so I could continue the show, but I know that personally, it was because she knew I had met this man and needed more time with him,” Ratell said.
This fed into Ratell’s motivation to win, because he not only would be given a chance to meet his extended family, but he also would be given a few extra days in Stockholm when filming came to a wrap.
Winning Season 7 gave Ratell the extra time needed, but he said his greatest takeaway was meeting his Swedish family.
Making Family Connections
During the final episode, Ratell met dozens of extended relatives, connecting with family members who knew his grandparents and others who shared his strong family genes.
“I was excited, but nervous to meet my relatives,” Ratell said. “Throughout the show, other cast members hoped they would like their family, but I was hoping my family would like me. As a vibrant, gay young man who dresses up as a woman on Broadway for my job, I can be a lot to handle. Plus, the cameras added a layer of nervousness.”
Ratell came out of the experience with several strong relationships. But, the relative he made the closest connection to was Agneta Fahlborg, who was involved since the beginning of the show. Today, the two check in with each other often, and Fahlborg has even built a relationship with Ratell’s mom on Facebook.
“Between meeting my family, falling in love with Stockholm and becoming romantically involved with someone, it was really hard to leave,” Ratell said. “But what I learned is that life is something that I can create for myself anywhere I am. Whether it’s finding love, a career or family, it’s up to me to seize every opportunity and make it happen.”
If you are an American with Swedish ancestry and have never been to Sweden, apply for Season 8 of Allt för Sverige. The deadline is Feb. 7.