CHICAGO — They shrieked, they gasped, they cried, they hugged — and that was before Oprah Winfrey's studio audience got a trip to Australia.
Winfrey kicked off her 25th and final season of The Oprah Winfrey Show on Monday with promised surprises. After teasing the 300 audience members with a suggestion she might take them on a trip to New York, Philadelphia or Los Angeles, she said her last season merited something bigger.
"So I started to think about where would I most want to go," she said over the din of an audience that suddenly understood they were going somewhere far.
"Maybe I should take you all with me to the other side of the world. We're going to Australia," Winfrey shouted.
With that, a mockup of a Qantas Air Lines jet rolled onto stage, its door opened and actor John Travolta, who also flies airplanes, stepped out dressed as a Qantas pilot.
Winfrey, who opened her 19th season six years ago by giving out cars to everyone in her studio audience, will take this group in December on an eight-day, seven-night trip.
The audience was made up of some of who the program called its most loyal viewers over the years. And throughout the show, Winfrey introduced audience members, including a man named Larry who received word he'd been invited to the program via a taped message from Winfrey delivered to his house by NASCAR driver Jimmy Johnson.
There were surprises for Winfrey as well. Actor Don Johnson, who declined to appear on the program when it first aired in 1986 — when he was a much bigger television star than Winfrey — came by to explain he'd wanted to appear, but Miami Vice bosses wouldn't let him because he was too busy. "But I understand things have been going okay for you," he joked to Winfrey.
Winfrey teared up during a surprise appearance from singer-songwriter Paul Simon, who sang a song he'd written in honor of the show's 10th season with updated lyrics.
The rest of this week's show will include an appearance by country music stars the Judds, and a return to Williamson, W.Va., where she filmed a town hall episode about AIDS in 1987. The week will end with a live show on Friday, in which Winfrey will announce her first book club selection in nearly a year.