To start the festivities, Oprah dances onto the stage with one of her all-time favorite guests, John Travolta. "There is really no one on earth I'd rather be with in this moment than you," she says. "Twenty-five years later, you still make my heart go pitter-patter."
John has appeared on The Oprah Show 11 times and says that being on Oprah's stage feels like coming home. "If I may be so bold as to speak for the public, speak for the world, you have this rare ability to inject knowledge, help, hope, love and art into the culture," he says. "Oprah, there's only one of you, and there will never be another one. You are our queen, and we thank you for allowing us to be part of your life. And we're lucky to be a part of your life."
Oprah is also joined by an audience of 300 of her biggest fans. "You are all so loyal, we call you the 'ultimate,'" she says. "You have all been on this wild ride with me every step of the way, and for that I have deep, heartfelt gratitude to you all. To those of you in this audience and those of you in the audience at home."
Over the past 25 years, viewers at home have written in about the unexpected show moments that struck a chord with them. Linda Kinnell says her moment came in 2004. An Oprah Show Ultimate Viewer, Linda estimates she's logged 5,500 hours watching Oprah over the past 20 years. The show she says changed her life was Oprah's 50th Birthday Bash.
Though the show was filled with spectacular surprises, Linda says John's heartfelt toast to Oprah is the moment that stuck with her. In his toast, John said:
"To the most wonderful person in the world, Oprah Winfrey, our friend. And it's not just because you went out of your way to make sure that 50,000 underprivileged children in South Africa had their first Christmas gift or that you want to put schools throughout that country, but also because you inject the spirit into our society of life. You care. Your intelligence, your inspiration, and you do it all without judging, and because you treat everyone equally important, and this makes you a great American hero. You represent the best of our country and what's possible in our country. But, more importantly, you are a citizen of the world, and you are a hero to mankind. So we are better for knowing you, Oprah. We are. And to boot, you are beautiful. You are sexy. You're talented, and we love you so much we can't take it."
Linda says she watched that episode again and again. "Every time I watch it, it brings tears to my eyes," she says. "I just thought it was a powerful toast to have your friend say, 'The world is a better place with you in it.' I would love it if someone could toast me and tell me I'm a hero."
Inspired to become a better person, Linda booked a trip to Africa with her daughter, Lisa. "The plan when we went to Africa was to simply go and volunteer at an orphanage," Linda says. After the trip, Linda and Lisa knew they wanted to do more."We fell in love with these beautiful kids," Linda says. "I said, 'We need to build them a house.'"
After raising enough money to buy a piece of land, Linda worked with other volunteers to build a house for a group of orphans. "Now I feel I have a purpose," Linda says. "It just brings joy in my life to know that I have made a difference in their lives. I am this person today because of those words that were spoken. I've become a better person because of it."
Six years after giving his memorable toast, John steps off Oprah's stage to embrace Linda and commend her for her work. "That's unbelievable," Oprah says. "You just never know the moment that somebody hears something and it resonates with them."
Back in 1986, Oprah and her team were getting ready to tape their very first national show. The pressure was on—who would be the first guest? Oprah's staff called every '80s superstar, from Elizabeth Taylor to Sylvester Stallone, but no one was available. Eventually, Oprah and her producers set their sights on the star of one of the biggest shows on television—Miami Vice. Why not pull out all the stops and ask Don Johnson to be the first guest?
Oprah's team tried to lure Don to Chicago by sending him cases of Dom Pérignon champagne and a special pair of rhinestone sunglasses that were all the rage (remember—it was 1986), but he still turned down the offer. Without a big-name celebrity, Oprah decided to focus her first show on everyday men and women.
"And you know what?" Oprah says. "Doing a show about everyday people was the right call, and it's still what we do 25 years later."
Don may have turned down The Oprah Show back in 1986, but he's here today to surprise Oprah—and give her back her rhinestone sunglasses!
"For clarity, I was shooting about 18, 20 hours a day at the time, and it's not that I didn't want to come," Don says. "They wouldn't let me come!"
While searching for some of The Oprah Show's Ultimate Viewers, we came across Cathy McCarthy. Once a week, Cathy and her five best friends meet at a diner just outside of Boston to talk about The Oprah Show and everything else going on in their lives. From births and deaths to weddings and vacations, these women have been through it all together.
To give these besties the ultimate surprise, Oprah's own best friend, Gayle King, strolls into Zachery's Diner in the middle of their weekly brunch! "I just happened to be in the neighborhood," she jokes.
Gayle heard that Cathy's all-time favorite episode is Oprah and Gayle's Big Adventure, which featured footage from Oprah and Gayle's hilarious cross-country road trip. "You know, Oprah and I went on a road trip in a red Chevy," she says.
Now it's Cathy's turn to get behind the wheel and embark on her own road trip! Gayle takes these six friends outside to hand over the keys to a new red Chevy that they can drive from Boston to Chicago for The Oprah Show's farewell season premiere!
Cathy and her friends hit the open road and take in the sights along the way. These ladies think they're getting a day of rest before the premiere show taping, but there's something Gayle didn't mention. They're actually headed straight to Harpo Studios!
The women are told that a driver is going to park the car in a hotel garage. "What they don't know is that their driver is pulling them straight into this building," Oprah says. "Our design department has really outdone themselves. Over the past few days, they have transformed our loading dock and the back half of this building into a parking garage—it looks so real, cars were actually trying to pull in to park there!"
The driver—who is in on the surprise—drives them straight through the studio...and right onto the Oprah Show stage. "Welcome to the season premiere!" Oprah says.
Cathy and her friends are completely shocked. After catching their breath, they take seats in the front row to watch the rest of the show.
There are thousands of fans who've grown up watching The Oprah Show—mothers, daughters, sisters, wives and, yes, there are even some man fans.
Larry is an ex-marine, a fisherman, a hunter, a dedicated NASCAR fan and a die-hard Oprah Show viewer. "Oprah is definitely the other woman in our father's life," says Ronda, Larry's daughter.
Every afternoon, Larry settles into a barber chair in his garage and watches the show. He'll even dole out Oprah's advice to his kids. "[He'll say], 'Well, today on Oprah she said to wear bell-bottom jeans and stilettos,'" Ronda says. "It's funny to hear your 65-year-old dad tell you what the trend is."
After years of watching her from his "man cave," it's time for Larry to see Oprah up close. To deliver the news, Oprah sent along another one of Larry's favorite people, NASCAR superstar Jimmie Johnson. "I think you have a DVD we need to watch," he says.
Larry—and his barber chair!—have made it to Chicago. Does watching the show in person beat the view from the garage? "Big-time!" he says. "I mean, like, big-time!"
In 1993, Oprah met Crystal Brooks, one of her original—and youngest—Ultimate Viewers. At only 9 years old, Crystal wrote Oprah saying she wanted to be a talk show host when she grew up, so Oprah invited her to spend a day at Harpo to see what she might be in for.
Crystal's now 26 years old and teaches at Heskett Middle School, just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. "Ms. Brooks is the greatest, friendliest teacher ever," one student says.
She may not have become a talk show host, but Oprah still wants to see how her old friend is doing. One afternoon, she surprised Crystal and her students with a video message. "I couldn't imagine kicking off our 25th season without one of my original, youngest Ultimate Viewers," Oprah said. "Ms. Brooks, there is a car waiting outside right now to bring you to the airport to come to Chicago for our season premiere!"
Seventeen years after Crystal's first Oprah Show appearance, she's all grown up and back in the studio.
At school, she says she uses the video of her first visit as incentive for her students. "If they do well, I'll show it to them," she says. "But now they've all seen it!"
There have been plenty of surprises on The Oprah Show over years, and one of Oprah's favorites is when she surprised her entire audience with a trip to Philadelphia in 1994. The entire audience flew to the City of Brotherly Love to see the sights while consuming as many cheese steaks as possible.
Leading up to her final season premiere, Oprah says she spent a lot of time racking her brains, thinking of a way to top all those cheesesteaks. "[I thought], ''Would it be another trip to Philly? Or maybe New York or L.A.?,'" she says. "And then I thought: 'Gee, maybe I ought to think bigger. Because, after all, this really is my 25th season, and this is really my last chance to do something big.'"
Oprah says there's one place she's always wanted to visit, and who better to travel with than 300 devoted Oprah Show viewers?
"Maybe I should take all of you with me to the other side of the world. You're going to Australia!" Oprah says.
The nose of a plane drives right onto the stage—and out of the cockpit walks Capt. John Travolta! "John is a real Qantas Airlines pilot," Oprah says. "He's flown there many times, and we have been secretly plotting and planning this trip of a lifetime for almost a year with everyone at Tourism Australia. They are ready to roll out the red carpet for all 300 of us."
From the gorgeous beaches to the spectacular vineyards, the awe-inspiring Great Barrier Reef to the legendary Sydney Harbor, Oprah's lucky audience will experience it all. To culminate the end of this ultimate eight-day adventure, a once-in-a-lifetime Oprah Show will tape at the Sydney Opera House—and just for the occasion, Tourism Australia is renaming it the Sydney Oprah House!
After giving her audience the ultimate surprise, Oprah thinks the show has come to an end—but her staff has one more trick up their sleeves. Instructed to read the prompter, Oprah says, "This is for you with love from your staff, your crew and a legendary mystery guest."
Oprah has no idea, but one of her favorite singers has been waiting in the wings—Paul Simon!
"Many years ago, I wrote a song for Oprah's 10th season, and I'd like to sing that again with a few lyrical changes to commemorate your farewell season here," Paul says.