*Straight from her Kennedy Center Honors in DC, Oprah Winfrey’s and 300 lucky members of her audience boarded a plane for Australia Tuesday to begin enjoying the talk show queen’s ultimate giveaway — an eight-day journey across the land Down Under.
Winfrey kicked off her 25th and final season of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in September by surprising her shrieking, jumping and sobbing fans with what she’s billed as the trip of a lifetime. The hand-picked audience was made up of Oprah’s “most loyal viewers” over the years.
The itinerary for “Oprah’s Ultimate Australian Adventure” had been kept a closely guarded secret, with audience members still left in the dark upon their arrival in Sydney. But travel details finally released by Australia’s tourism minister later Tuesday reveal a sweeping adventure in store for Winfrey’s fans, with trips planned to each of the country’s eight states and territories.
The audience, which ranges in age from 18 to 75, will be split into several smaller groups and sent off to explore the glittering Great Barrier Reef, the crocodile-infested rainforests of northern Oz, and the famous red monolith called Uluru, located in the remote and dusty Outback. They will also tour the country’s wine regions, visit a historic prison colony in the island state of Tasmania, and check out the wildlife on Kangaroo Island, home to koalas, sea lions and, of course, kangaroos.
Excited audience members waved at reporters and photographers as they were ushered through Sydney airport and onto a bus, which whisked them away to a hotel for a briefing and a traditional Aboriginal dance performance. Winfrey was traveling separately by private jet and expected to land later Tuesday or Wednesday (that, too, was being kept secret.)
“It’s an unbelievable experience, and I just want to soak in every bit of it,” said Jocelyn Kelley, of Boston, who was traveling with her mother, Gloria. “To be in that audience, to be a part of something so big, is just amazing.”
Winfrey will film two episodes at the Opera House (which the Australian media has renamed the “Oprah” House) and a third episode at a yet-to-be disclosed location, rumored to be somewhere in the Outback. The shows are scheduled to air in January.
Her arrival has been treated with breathless anticipation in Australia, which is forking out more than $4 million for the trip between the federal and state governments. Officials say that’s a small price to pay for the many millions of dollars of tourism advertising the show will bring.
“Oprah is a household name, not just in the United States but in the 145 countries where the show is broadcast,” Federal Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson said in a statement. “That Oprah has chosen Australia as her Ultimate Adventure destination sends a powerful message to her millions of fans around the world.”
The Winfrey fans will have a packed schedule, enjoying everything from surfing lessons and snorkeling to nature hikes and beachside barbecues.
“I would have never thought little bitty ol’ me would ever have this opportunity,” Orlando Bogins of Detroit said as he arrived at Sydney’s airport. “It came at such a very hard time in my life — my mom had nine hours (of) surgery, I was laid off from my job and my house had been broken into. So we had all of that happen, and then I got notification that I was selected to go on the Oprah show.”