After an extensive coast-to-coast search for contestants, 10 handpicked finalists arrive in Los Angeles for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—competing in Oprah's Big Give. To win, each contestant must make dreams come true for total strangers and show the world that one person can make a big difference.
Who will give big and who will go home?
Meet the celebrity judges who know what it means to give big: Jamie Oliver, the world-famous chef who is passionate about improving the lives of England's youth; Malaak Compton-Rock, mother of two and the wife of comedian Chris Rock, who has dedicated her career to making a difference; and Tony Gonzalez, the NFL star who's felt the rush of giving back.
After each challenge, the judges will decide who to eliminate based on four criteria: creativity, leadership, presentation and accomplishment.
Oprah presents the finalists with the first challenge: Every Second Counts. Each contestant gets an envelope with a photograph, a name, $2,500 and a clue. There are only five photographs, and the contestants are instructed to team up with the Giver who has the matching picture. The photo is of someone who could desperately use their help—but each team has only five days to make dreams come true.
Stephen and Eric are teamed up to help AJ, a recently widowed mother of young twin daughters. AJ's husband was shot and killed, and now she's faced with raising the girls alone. When the team hears how AJ is struggling to provide for the family and keep their house, they realize her future really is in their hands.
"It's hard to believe we only have five days to raise all this money to help her pay off her mortgage," Stephen says. "If she loses this house, she loses the entire support system that is really carrying her through this incredibly difficult time."
Brandi and Cameron are working to help Karen, the mother of a son with Down Syndrome and the founder of High Hopes, a nonprofit that cares for adults with disabilities. High Hopes has a long list of needs to keep the organization running smoothly, including new musical equipment and a bigger facility.
"It just means a lot for people to take the time to consider that people with disabilities are worth it," Karen says.
Sheg and Carlana are determined to raise the money to ease Eric's burden of debt. Eric grew up in South Central Los Angeles and is about to graduate from UCLA School of Medicine. When he does, he will have $206,000 in student loans to pay off. The sooner he pays off the loans, the sooner he will be able to fulfill his dreams of working with children and correcting physical deformities free of charge.
"Having positive role models is crucial for the success of the kids from this area," Eric says. "My purpose and my passion is to be exactly that—someone the kids can look at and say, 'Hey, I wouldn't mind having some of the qualities that he has.'"
After spending the first day of the challenge lost, Marlene and Kim finally make it to Karl, a soldier awarded three Purple Hearts for injuries suffered in Iraq. He's feeling the weight of providing for his family now that he has been honorably discharged from service.
"I've been in the military for ten years," Karl says. "What I'm mostly concerned about now is failing my family."
With a "better late than never" attitude, Marlene and Kim know Karl's family is depending on them and they refuse to let them down.
Judge Jamie Oliver drops in to check on Sheg and Carlana's progress. When he finds out that their biggest idea is a fashion show, Jamie worries about the duo's chances.
"What they've got is a half-baked fashion show. I can't really get the relevance in all that," Jamie says. "I think they're playing with fire."
Rachael and Angelo are on a mission to get Shante—a homeless, single mother of two who is struggling to meet her family's most basic needs—and her family off the streets.
Rachael convinces a local church, A Place Called Home, to host a fundraiser. She sings to the crowd and her enthusiasm, along with Angelo's encouragement, inspires the congregation to dig deep into their pockets, raising $14,000 in just 15 minutes.
"They were just giving and passing the baskets around," Angelo says. "From the pulpit, I could see that the baskets were filling up with money. They gave big!"
Eric and Stephen throw a block party for AJ to celebrate her husband's life and to announce what they have raised in the past five days. The list includes scholarship money for eight years of the girls' schooling, donations toward their college education and a huge chunk of their mortgage paid off.
"We'd like to thank everybody for showing your support and your love to this incredible woman, AJ, and her two beautiful little girls," Eric tells the crowd. "But we also want to honor the spirit of an amazing guy, an amazing dad by the name of Tom."
Eric gets to the heart of the challenge when he suggests the girls write notes to their dad and put them in balloons, which will carry them all the way to heaven.
People in Shante's community came through for her. At the reveal, Angelo and Rachael tell Shante that they've secured her family a two-bedroom home—including six months of rent and home appliances—scholarships for her kids and a check from Chase Home Lending to get the family off to a great, new start.
"It feels really good to know that I am somebody," Shante says. "I'm not just an invisible person, which is how I've felt since I've been in this homeless situation."
"We did this event at A Place Called Home, and now Shante has a place called home," Angelo says.
Though they got off to a slow start, Kim and Marlene find a way to give big to Karl. After their first meeting, Kim immediately starts making calls, using her personal contacts to secure a check for the family from Bridgestone/Firestone. Though Marlene doesn't make a single call, she maintains her positive attitude and is thrilled with the team's success.
Kim also found a beach house for Karl and his family, with the first month's rent and utilities already paid off.
"My entire life has been about what's best for me, taking care of me," Kim says. "To know that instead of getting, I'm giving and making somebody else's life better, it makes me not want to take my own life for granted. There are people out there that are struggling, and it just takes one person to make a difference in their lives."
When Cameron and Brandi present their reveal, they've got two surprises. First, a list of donations to High Hopes that includes new musical instruments and a bigger facility that's been paid off for the next six years. Karen is equally touched by the second surprise—a room full of people cheering for her many years of hard work.
Karen says she is overwhelmed by the kindness of her community and realizes that is what makes life so priceless. "I was speechless," she says. "It was just unbelievable."
At the fashion show reveal, Carlana encourages the crowd to empty their wallets and fill up the models' purses with cash, but the response is less than positive and Carlana and Sheg fail to collect any money from the audience for Eric.
Even though the fashion show is a flop, the night proves worthwhile when actor Jamie Foxx calls to surprise Eric with a check for $50,000!
"Just the fact that somebody out there understands what you've been through, that was beyond awesome," Eric says.
At the very first elimination, it's time for the judges to decide who gave big and who will go home. Each contestant is given an envelope—nine of which have a plane ticket to the competition's next challenge location. With no plane ticket in her envelope, Marlene knows she is the first to go. Though the judges were unimpressed with Sheg and Carlana's lackluster fashion show, they sent Marlene home because she didn't contribute anything tangible to her team's Big Give.
Even though she was the first contestant to be eliminated from Oprah's Big Give, Marlene says she remains positive about her week on the show. "The experience was great," she says. "I was overwhelmed. Oprah called me to do this. It was great knowing that I can do something to meet a need, so I was excited about that."
Do you agree with the judges' decision?
Jamie says the decision to vote off Marlene certainly wasn't for her lack of enthusiasm. "Marlene was always a vision of excitement and goodness, and she's a wonderful person," he says. "But in the construct of a game show, she didn't get as much done as the others. It was the first week, so had she stayed on the second week, she would have."
Marlene says with another week she really could have shown what she was capable of. "If I could do this again, you just don't know," she says. "I've got so much energy."
Along with more than 15 million other people, Oprah's Big Give
judge Malaak Compton-Rock watched the first episode—and she invited some friends along for the big event! Malaak hosted a viewing party at the home of music mogul L.A. Reid and his wife, Erica.
Malaak and Erica invited some of their best friends, including celebrity pals like actress Holly Robinson Peete, fashion model Emme and network news couple Deborah Roberts and Al Roker. Get ideas for throwing your own party!
To get everyone in the Big Give
spirit, Malaak and Erica asked their guests to bring shoes to donate to New York's Henry Street Settlement for the homeless.
Minutes before the show was about to begin, Project Runway's Tim Gunn dropped by with a special announcement!
"We were so touched by having everyone come here in a simple act of kindness by bringing a pair of shoes to donate, that we wanted to be involved, too," he says. On behalf of Liz Claiborne, Tim, who serves as the company's chief creative officer, donated 500 pairs of shoes to the cause!
Malaak says the Big Give spirit truly shined at her party. "It was such a fantastic evening. I'm so excited about all the shoes that they donated," she says. "Thank you for watching the Big Give. And please keep on giving."
Oprah's Big Give viewers are already getting inspired to start big gives in their own communities. Nate surprises one of them outside her home in Bedford, Indiana.
Shelley e-mailed us about her high school classmate whose family lost everything. "There was a fire in the middle of the night," Nate says. "They were barely able to get the kids out of the house."
The family is still without a home…but Shelley is on a mission to change that! Nate hands her $10,000 and tells her she has five days to make magic happen.
"This is your own Big Give," Nate tells Shelley. "I'll be checking back!"
For your next Oprah's Big Give party
, Jamie Oliver demonstrates an ultra-easy recipe from his book Cook with Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook
that you can share with your friends and family.
"I love this book," Oprah says. "I love the feel of it. I love the texture of it. I love what's inside. I love the size of it. I love this book."
Jamie says the inspirations for Jools' Favorite Saturday Afternoon Pasta
are his wife—after whom it's named—and the unusual pairing of ingredients like cinnamon, tuna, lemon, basil and chilies.
Not only is Cooking with Jamie
full of wonderful recipes and time-saving cooking tips, it also supports a great cause. Jamie says he'll give all the money he makes from it to the Fifteen Foundation, which inspires and trains underprivileged kids for careers in food. Special thanks to all those who helped during this episode of Oprah's Big Give