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Oprah's Ultimate Favorite Things: An Angeleno 'hero' lives to tell her story

November 22, 2010 |  3:48 pm

Elise Even Justin Bieber and his awe-inspiring hair follicles couldn’t cause the kind of piercing screams that emanated from Monday’s second (and last) installment of Oprah’s Ultimate Favorite Things.

Last Friday, brownie-edge lovers went into heart failure when daytime TV’s version of Santa Claus (Oprah) bestowed upon them a pan that ensured every brownie has an edge ... but it turned out that this was only the beginning. Today, Winfrey continued the spirit of giving.

It started with an ornament. Then some snow. And, then …


Chaos ensued.

As viewers everywhere again cursed their misfortune, live audience members displayed unfortunate facial expressions.

One audience member, Gina Elise of Los Angeles, lived to tell about the experience. It all started last month, when there was a call on Oprah’s site to submit "heroes." Elise was submitted by a friend for having establised “Pin-Ups for Vets,” a WWII style pinup calendar that raises money for cognitive, occupational and physical rehabilitation programs at VA hospitals around the U.S. 

Elise managed to regain enough composure to pen this account of the epic event:

When we arrived at the show at noon, we had no clue what we were in for. We did figure out that everyone who was waiting in line with us had been nominated as a "hero." They were all doing something to make a difference or were, in some way, an inspiration to others. There was a taping of a show that had just wrapped, and the audience members were exiting with "My Favorite Things" bags.   Everyone in line was trying to look in the bags of the exiting audience members to see what she had given out. So, we now knew that our show wasn't going to be her "Favorite Things" show. But we didn't care. We were thrilled to be there to see Oprah in person! 

 We took our seats in the studio, waiting for Oprah to come out. Someone from backstage threw a Christmas ornament onto the stage. In one instant, the walls opened up, it started snowing from the ceiling of the sound stage, and screens everywhere were flashing "Oprah's My Favorite Things."  People were jumping up and down, crying, screaming. It was mad. I couldn't believe that they had tricked us!  She told us that she wanted to see the looks on everyone's faces when the first taping came out with their "Favorite Things" bags! The "tremendous twist" that they were advertising this year turned out to be that she was taping TWO "Favorite Things" shows. We were the second.

 She ended up giving out 21 items to every person in her audience, including diamond earrings, an iPad, two $500 gift certificates to the lingerie department at Nordstrom's, a Coach bag and many more items. After Johnny Mathis and Josh Groban performed, it was down to the last item. Oprah drove onstage in a VW bug. We went crazy! She asked everyone to calm down, that "it's not what you think." 

She then explained that she had contacted VW to ask them if they would give everyone in the audience cars. They told her, "We can do better. We can give everyone the 2012 VW which hasn't even been released yet." I thought that I was going to faint. I felt so honored to be around so many people who are doing things for the good. Oprah is a big fan of  "paying it forward." I cannot express how thankful I am to her; I want to use these items to help my nonprofit, Pin-Ups for Vets.

— Yvonne Villarreal

Photo: Gina Elise outside Harpo Studios. Credit: Gina Elise