From new cars to a new home, Oprah Winfrey is known for giving away extravagant gifts. On the season premiere episode of her final season, Oprah did it again and surprised everyone in the studio audience with an all-expenses paid trip to Australia. Samuel Jones, an associate director for Resident Services at Loyola Marymount University and an Oprah Show Ultimate Viewer, was one among the audience members who received the surprise gift.
“I didn’t hear anything at first because everyone was screaming and jumping up and down,” Jones said. “But once I heard the news I was floored. I can’t recall ever taking a real vacation and this is going to be a real vacation.”
Jones applied this past summer to be an Oprah Show Ultimate Viewer via Oprah’s website. He said that he was grateful to be selected to attend a show for the final season, though he has been an audience member in the past. Jones also said he has been an avid fan since the show began in 1986 and that Oprah had inspired him to accomplish many things in his life, including pursuing higher education.
“Oprah is just inspirational, I don’t have any other word for her,” Jones said. “During high school I wanted to be a pilot. I had no ambition of going to college. But watching Oprah inspired me to earn both undergraduate and graduate degrees.”
After the taping, the producers of Oprah sent a questionnaire asking the recipients what they’d like to do during the trip. Jones said he’d like to go snorkeling because his guest and best friend, Mary Olesky, loves it. There is just one problem: Jones can’t swim.
“Mary told me we can’t go to Australia without snorkeling, and I don’t want us to do separate activities,” Jones said. “I can’t swim but I’m going to learn how.”
Jones has enlisted a friend to teach him how to swim in the pool at LMU. They have had two lessons so far and plan on continuing until Jones is confident in the water, or, until the trip in December.
Photo: Top left: Jones in front of the studio where the Oprah Show is filmed. Bottom right: Jones with his friend and swimming instructor, Luis.