Local Oprah fan among those heading to Australia

Sept. 20, 2010

A trip down to Chicago ending up turning into a trip Down Under for one Oprah Winfrey fan and the entire studio audience.

Joe Neman of Greenfield was among the 300 people in the audience when Oprah Winfrey surprised her loyal followers with a trip to Australia.

Neman, 29, won tickets to the Sept. 9 "ultimate Oprah fans" taping after he entered his name into a contest and later answered a series of questions, such as his favorite episode and lessons learned from Oprah.

"I was ecstatic, really happy," Neman said. "I've never went to her show and knew it was her last season, so I was happy I could finally cross this off my list of things I wanted to do."

He took his sister, Shawn Salter, also a huge fan.

The episode, which aired Monday, was the season premiere of Winfrey's 25th and final season. They were in for a big surprise when the legendary daytime talk show host announced an all-expenses-paid, eight-day trip to Australia for every member of the audience.

"We were jumping up and down," Neman said.

Oprah has surprised her audience with gifts before. In 2004, she gave every audience member a new car.

There was speculation before the taping she would do something similar to kick off her final season. But Neman said he and his sister were careful not to get their hopes up too high and simply enjoy the moment.

However, when a few pieces of confetti started prematurely falling from the ceiling, Neman started getting the vibe that something was up.

The episode aired Monday, meaning Neman, Salter and the rest of the audience had to keep the secret for about four days - at Oprah's request.

Neman said he was surprised by the secrecy request, but added "since we're fans, we're all going to listen to Oprah."

Winfrey was appreciative, posting on her Twitter account Monday: "Audience - it's unbelievable that you kept that secret all weekend! Way to go mates."

After the episode was shown, Neman said he got deluged with text messages, phone calls and Facebook messages. Neman teaches English at Veritas High School in Milwaukee, so most of his students caught the show as well.

Neman and Salter will head to Australia Dec. 5-15.

Watch the video of Oprah's surprise announcement here: http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Oprahs-Surprise-for-Her-Ultimate-Viewers-Video

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