Oklahoma City residents Charan Rose and Blake Overstreet had no idea what they were in for when they found out they were invited to be part of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" studio audience last week.
Rose and Overstreet, her son, were two of about 300 people in the audience for the premiere episode of the last season of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which was taped in Chicago on Thursday but aired Monday. The audience knew Winfrey would likely do something big to commemorate the occasion, and there was fervor in the air that had the audience in hysterics before Winfrey made the big announcement.
"We're going to Australia!" Winfrey shouted over deafening cheers from the studio audience. "You and you and you and you, are going to Australia!"
Behind her, John Travolta clad in a pilot uniform emerged from a fake jet. Confetti rained on the uproarious audience, which waved tiny Australian flags while crying and hugging each other in disbelief.
"It was a very surreal moment," Rose said. "At first I thought, 'Well, that's Oprah.' Then I thought, 'Did she just say she was going to take us to Sydney, Australia, all expenses paid?'"
Winfrey said that not only would her entire audience receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Australia (paid for by Tourism Australia) in December, but Travolta would fly them there.
Still, Rose said she wants to forfeit her trip to someone else. In fact, it was her own story of giving to others that landed her in the audience.
'Dumpster diving' show inspired woman
A couple of months ago, Rose responded to television ads looking for Winfrey's 300 "Ultimate Viewers."
In order to qualify, viewers had to send in their stories of how an episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" touched and changed their own lives. The episode that changed Rose's life was about how some people depend on "Dumpster diving" for their food and basic needs.
Shortly after seeing that episode, Rose and a friend were looking for materials to use to insulate her dog houses before a big snowstorm. Behind a local clothing store, she saw a little coat sleeve sticking out of a Dumpster.
"It was a perfect little child's coat," she recalls. "And Coats for Kids was going on. We looked in there, and there were a ton of coats in this Dumpster."
The coats were ripped, she said.
"They shred them so you can't use them," Rose said.
She and her friend took the coats and mended them with trendy-looking patches and donated them to the coat drive.
"I started noticing things that were around Dumpsters or in Dumpsters," she said.
"I don't consider myself a Dumpster-diver at all. But now, I'm keenly aware of things that are thrown out that can be reused."
Rose's life took a new direction.
One day, while searching for boxes behind a furniture store, she said she found a perfectly good mattress the store had thrown away.
"I tied it on top of my Camry and took it to the battered women's shelter," she said, referring to the Oklahoma City YWCA Women's Shelter. "And the way they act, you'd think you'd given them Neiman's unlimited gift cards when you donate something over there."
But that's not why she did it. Her sister was once a victim of domestic violence.
Rose had no idea that she had been chosen as one of Winfrey's "Ultimate Viewers" until she was in the Chicago studio with her son.
She said she hopes to give her trip to her son's girlfriend, Sami Daraby. The couple's four-year anniversary falls within the 10-day trip. According to the rules of the trip, winners can't pay to have additional people come along, so Rose would have to forfeit her own trip to send Daraby.
"My son, his dream all of his life was to go to Australia," she said. "And get this: It's always been Sami's dream to go to Australia, too, since she was a child. I've heard them talk about it a hundred times. And for Oprah to pick Sydney, Australia ... there are no accidents."
Plus, if she were to go, Rose said she'd wind up spending $1,000 to board her three cats, two dogs and two foster dogs.
Being disabled after having broken her back several years ago, that amounts to a month's disability. She had to have a garage sale to pay for her trip to Chicago for the Oprah show.
"I can't do much. I have no money. But I feel like, 'You know what? If you can do anything, it will come back to you tenfold,'" Rose said. She's a stained glass artist and often uses some of the money she makes from her pieces to buy items for the women at the shelter.
When asked how people can help her do the work she does for others, Rose said simply, "Tell them to donate to the YWCA. They need it."