Oprah announces the Australia trip

During the season premiere of Oprah's farewell season, five words whipped an audience full of Ultimate Viewers into a frenzy: "You are going to Australia!"

Relive the moment

Since then, Harpo staffers have been hard at work to create the trip of a lifetime. "It's one thing to say that. It's another thing to actually pull that off," Oprah says. "All I can say is think of your own family vacation times 302 people going to the other side of the world. Oh my goodness, that is a lot of work."

In all, Oprah's staff will produce four shows during their trip Down Under. "Two will be totally on tape—Oprah's whole adventure through the continent," senior supervising producer Jill says. "Two will be at the Sydney Opera House, with 6,000 people in the audience for each."

To Oprah, the experience is the most important thing of all. "The way I looked at the Australia trip was it is not a vacation for me. It's a vacation for the 302 people," Oprah says. "This is about creating the experience that people have never had, nor would have ever had access to."

Oprah lands in Australia

By the time Oprah and the Ultimate Viewers land, 200 Harpo staffers have been working 17-hour days to ensure every detail is perfect for the five-day adventure. The Ultimate Viewers will be split up among different regions in Australia, and Oprah will meet up with them during her own journey. Making that happen, Sheri says, requires meticulous planning. "Oprah's schedule is jam-packed," Sheri says. "We are so tightly scheduled, that pretty much nothing can go wrong to hit every story we need to hit." When Oprah arrives straight from the Kennedy Center Honors, Sheri briefs her on the schedule. "I'm exhausted just hearing it on paper," Oprah says. "This is a logistical nightmare."
Oprah and Gayle drive through the crowds

Oprah's first task? Cuddling koalas on Hamilton Island in the territory of Queensland. "There are only two places in the whole country where you can pick up koalas, and this is one of them," Jill says. "This is going to set the tone for the entire week. This first stop has to knock it out of the park"

As Oprah drives her golf cart to the sanctuary, she is met by throngs of onlookers. "The one thing that makes me nervous is security," Jill says. "I feel a little overwhelmed by crowds gathering."

Oprah says she was surprised. "I was somewhat fascinated by the number of people who were so enthusiastic," Oprah says. "All these people are screaming, and I'm trying to get through the crowd, watch the crowd, look for crazy people—all of that at the same time. That was stunning to me."

"I'm thinking that this could be a very interesting week of shooting," Sheri says. "This could get a little crazy."

Oprah and Gayle with koalas

Once inside, Oprah and Gayle are ready to meet one of Australia's most recognizable mascots. "I had to prepare myself for the koala thing," Oprah says. "I'm not big on furry animals with claws."

Gayle, on the other hand, is psyched. "All the way she's like, 'I can't wait to see the koalas. I can't wait to hold one.' That was annoying me, so I said, 'I think they've been known to attack people,'" Oprah jokes. "I never heard that, but I just said that."

Watch what happens when Oprah and Gayle meet their koalas

After hugging Oprah and Gayle, the koalas turn a cute meeting into a lesson in animal mating. "Are they spayed and neutered?" Oprah says. "No, they're not [neutered]. That little Elvis guy wanted to prove it."

Jill is thrilled with the shoot. "I have to say, as a producer, you're like bingo," she says. "It went from cute to outstanding in a matter of seconds."

Oprah on the beach

While Oprah is meeting koalas, the crew and celebrity chef Curtis Stone are putting the finishing touches on a bash at Whitehaven Beach, one of the most beautiful white-sand beaches in the world. "It's the first time Oprah's going to be with any viewers in Australia," Sheri says.

Once the viewers are on the beach, Oprah is set to land in a helicopter. "This whole beach party is all timed out to perfection," co-producer Lindsay says. "The helicopter has to land at the right time. The viewers have to be on the beach. We have to bring barge upon barge to get them over there."

Unfortunately, the timing isn't quite right. "Up in the sky, I see a helicopter," Sheri says. "I go, 'Oh my God, Oprah's here and the viewers aren't on the beach yet.'"

Watch how the crew saved Oprah's grand arrival.

"That's a great party entrance, I must say," Oprah says. "If you've got to enter a party, that's the way to go."

Sheri's emergency meeting

After a night on the beach, Oprah and staff head to Sydney, where Sheri calls an emergency production meeting about whether to add a stop to Oprah's itinerary. "Uluru is in Australia's outback. It really is the spiritual center of Australia and a holy sacred ground for the Aboriginal people," Sheri says. "One of the reasons that Uluru wasn't initially high up on the list was well-known stories of black flies and an unbearable heat."

Oprah began reconsidering Uluru after talking to musician Paul Simon. "I was on the phone with Paul Simon, and he said you cannot go to Australia and not go to the central heart of the continent that is so sacred to the Aboriginal people," Oprah says. "I got on the phone to Sheri, and it wasn't in our plan. She said the viewers were going but I wasn't going."

Sheri realizes she made a mistake. "It's so obvious it's embarrassing to admit. It's the spiritual heart of the country. It's the thing that Oprah will care about most," she says. "If I do not get Oprah to Uluru, all of this is for nothing."

Oprah and Ultimate Viewers

The plan is reshuffled, and Oprah surprises the 14 Ultimate Viewers who have been sent to Uluru. "Once Oprah arrives at Uluru with the viewers, they're going to be greeted by Aboriginal elders," senior field producer Gail says. "They'll tell us a little bit of their ancestral heritage."

At first, Oprah says the area reminds her of where she grew up—only hotter. The day's temperature is 104 degrees. "It looks like the red dirt of Mississippi," Oprah says. "Little hotter than Mississippi, though."

The visit becomes one of the highlights of Oprah's trip. "I was feeling the spirit of Uluru from the time I was flying in and you see that big monolith coming out of the ground," Oprah says. "Where did that come from? How did it get there? Obviously, something greater than ourselves put it there."

Sheri is relieved. "I see the magical connection that's happening between Oprah and the Aboriginal elders, and to think, she was almost not here," Sheri says. "Saved from what could have been one of my biggest mistakes as an executive producer."

Watch the sunset at Uluru with Oprah
Jill, Terry and Sheri

While the rest of the staff is working on Oprah's Uluru experience, Jill and producer Terry are working on Oprah's visit to Melbourne. "Melbourne is the second largest city in Australia, and Oprah has a ton of fans there," Terry says. "My team and I are producing an event at Federation Square, which is the meeting place in Melbourne where Oprah is going to address thousands of fans."

Arrangements are going according to plan until Sheri receives a troubling phone call. "The Australian security expert that we have hired, he has basically said we are not ready for Melbourne," Sheri says. "If Oprah and the people who are coming to the square cannot be safe, then we're not going." 

Still, the team vows to see if they can make it work. "The viewers in Melbourne want to see Oprah there," Sheri says. "We're counting on that for half a show, so I'm going to stay hopeful that we can work it out."

Oprah reads the newspaper

Thankfully, the show will go on in Melbourne. Oprah is set to meet and interview Australia's prime minister, then greet fans waiting in Federation Square. "At the eleventh hour, the officials from Melbourne and our security experts sat down at a table and hashed it out," Sheri says. "Our security guy called me and said, 'Green light. You can go now.'"

But a new security concern arises the morning of shooting—Oprah's entire itinerary has been leaked to the press. "So everybody in Australia knows where we're going to be and what time we're going to be there. That's just like saying to everybody in a major city in the world, 'Come on out,'" Sheri says. "It's not just Oprah's safety. We're going to have people coming into this square, and they have to be safe too."

Oprah greets the crowd

As Terry and Candi prep Oprah, the crowd outside grows. "It's bigger than the crowd that will be at the Sydney Opera House," Terry says. "Everyone there is really excited to see Oprah, which is great, but I don't want it to be a security risk."

When Oprah arrives with the prime minister, the crowd goes wild. "I started noticing the crowd was really growing, quickly," Terry says. "It just kept closing in, and I could just feel them. I was like, 'Don't crush us. Don't crush Oprah.'"

Watch what happened

"When I was in the middle of it, I was like, 'What in hell is this?'" Oprah says. "Walking along there, I'm trying to look like 'oh yes, it's normal to have screaming and carrying on,' and you're trying to look like you're having a normal conversation. But the reason I didn't stop it is because she's the prime minister. You're in their country. You can't now say, 'Can we go get a cup of coffee somewhere?'"

Oprah greets the crowd in Melbourne

Oprah and the prime minister eventually make it to the stage without incident. "I couldn't wait for [the walk] to be over because I thought, 'This is so dangerous; this feels out of control,'" Oprah says.

On stage, Oprah says a quick hello to the crowd and heads on to the next item on her itinerary. Afterward, she has second thoughts about how the event went. "It was a really life-changing moment for me. When I got into the car everybody's like, 'Oh my God, that was something,'" Oprah says. "I was like, 'It was all about me.' It was not about them. It wasn't focused. It was a missed opportunity to leave just a little kernel of teaching."

Watch Oprah talk to Sheri about the new direction she wants her trip to take

Oprah and Ultimate Viewers

Back in Sydney, Oprah is ready to be reunited with all 302 Ultimate Viewers at a party at the Royal Botanic Garden. "I blame myself for looking at the Australia experience in the beginning as yet another thing to check off on the itinerary. It's up to me to bring a level of meaning and depth and something more real to it," Oprah says. "Now I've got 300 people, and I decided I'm not going make the same mistake I just made with 10,000 people."

Oprah addresses the Ultimate Viewers later that evening with words she hopes will make a difference. "The beauty that you see in this harbor and the energy of every person that you have encountered is just your heart being reflected back to you," Oprah says.
Sydney Harbor Bridge

As the party winds down, Oprah's staff has a big surprise for her. "The Sydney Harbor Bridge, one of the largest bridges in the world, is going to light up with a big red O on it," Jill says.

While watching a fireworks display, an unsuspecting Oprah is moved to tears when the O appears on the bridge.

Watch the surprise unfold

"You know I don't like surprises, but that was a damn good one. If you're going to be surprised, that is the way to do it," she says. "I know what it took to get that O on the bridge. It took my whole life and everything I've ever done or been or said or tried to be. The fact that the people of that country would think enough of me to put that O on the bridge [is] huge."

Watch Jill and Oprah trade Australian animal tales

Go back inside the premiere that made this whole trip possible


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