For die-hard fans, the 25th and farewell season of The Oprah Winfrey Show is a source of considerable sorrow.
But with the bittersweet goodbyes, viewers may find some joy in a whole new side of Oprah — the vulnerable, more exposed Lady O.
Ms. Winfrey is no stranger to taking our breath away with unbelievable controversial moments and show-stopping surprises. At the start of her 2004 season, the broadcast icon made headlines everywhere when she gave each member of her studio audience a brand new car. “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!!” will forever echo in our minds.
Aside from the highly-publicized giveaways, Oprah is giving viewers a far bigger gift in her final season. This time around, she’s giving her biggest fans what they might want more than anything — more of herself. As a well-documented genius at the ratings game, it only makes sense that all of Oprah’s newfound vulnerability must, in the end, benefit both her audience — and her enterprise.
Oprah is best known for holding a mirror to her guests, while rarely turning the mirror around so we could peer into the intimacies of her own life. In her farewell season, Oprah is giving us so much more; unveiling private former rivalries and grudges, addressing age-old rumors, and bringing intimate family business to the forefront — all of which is shocking for even the most avid viewer of show.
On November 15th, Oprah sat down with Whoopi Goldberg and fellow cast members of The Color Purple. For nearly all of The Oprah Winfrey Show history, fans and viewers requested that she reunite the cast of the 1985 film. Oprah saved the reunion for her final season and days prior to the show’s airing, teased viewers with footage of her and Whoopi Goldberg discussing a secret falling out which created a rift between the two that lasted for decades.
There were many speculations as to why the two fell out, but Whoopi and Oprah put the rumors to rest within the first half of the show. Oprah said, “Whoopi came up to me and she said, ‘Can I just ask you something? Really can I just ask you something? Did I do something to you?’”
Winfrey continued, “I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ Whoopi says, ‘All these years, you know, we’ve been disconnected and I just want to know, did I do something?’ I said, ‘All these years I thought you were mad at me.’”
Winfrey said, “It’s crazy. So I thought, you think I’m mad at you? I thought you were mad at me.”
Goldberg replied, “So crazy.”
“What was that?” Winfrey said, to which Goldberg replied, “Who knows?”
The much-talked-about reveals continued into 2011 — beginning on January 21st, when Oprah interviewed someone her audience had never met before.
Oprah wasn’t interviewing a major celebrity, or giving away mobile homes this time. Rather, she revealed that she had a long lost sister and a mother who denied her existence since birth.
“I was given some news that literally shook me to my core. This time, I’m the one being reunited,” she said in a promo for the show. “I was keeping a family secret for months, and on Monday you’re going to hear it straight from me.”
Hearing about Oprah’s dysfunctional family life was not a new thing to viewers. They have heard her talk about being molested, and about the relationship she has with her estranged father, but seeing her mother interviewed on camera in the presence of a sibling that she never knew, exposed a new layer of Oprah.
In the black community, there is oftentimes an unspoken stigma when it comes to talking about family business. Oprah’s show has largely bucked that trend. Oprah not only revealed the secret of her half sister but also gave America a rare glimpse into the nature of her relationship with her mother Vernita Lee.
The most recent of Oprah’s personal revelations came on February 16th when spiritual life coach Iyanla Vanzant made her return to the Oprah stage after 11 years of being banned as a guest. More than a decade ago, Iyanla gained notoriety by regularly appearing on the show and giving spiritual advice to studio guests, callers, and to Oprah herself. After becoming an Oprah ratings success, Iyanla was asked by Barbara Walter’s team to leave Oprah and start her own show under Walter’s production tutelage. After receiving the Walters offer, Iyanla presented Oprah with the ultimatum for her own show under Oprah. The historic departure created an 11-year rift between the two women.
During the interview an emotional Iyanla said to Oprah, “I love you. I have always loved you and had nothing but positive regard for you, and I am now so sorry …I am aware of how my behavior and my choices could have appeared to you and been experienced by you as betrayal. Please forgive me. Please. That was not my intention ever, and at the bottom line, Oprah, I think it boils down to people thought I knew things that I didn’t know.”
Oprah replied, “I accept your apology. No apology necessary. You were already forgiven.”
Beyond the headline-making apology and reunion episodes, Oprah has also been in the public eye, giving more interviews and addressing the notorious rumors about her relationship with best friend Gayle King.
During an interview with Barbara Walters, a tearful Oprah said: ”[Gayle] is the mother I never had. She is the sister everybody would want. She is the friend that everybody deserves; I don’t know a better person.”
In response to the frequent questions about her sexuality, Oprah said: “I’m not a lesbian. I’m not even kind of a lesbian.And the reason why it irritates me is because it means that somebody must think I’m lying. That’s number one. Number two: why would you want to hide it? That is not the way I run my life.”
In years past, Oprah has rarely entertained these kinds of questions This season, she allowed her fans to see her open up about the subject.
With Oprah’s OWN Network recently launching, it is important for Oprah to leave her viewers at the end of this season with the most real and honest take on whom she absolutely is. The benefit of her now open public persona might equate into the OWN Network being a cable ratings powerhouse.
Season 25 is not just a farewell for The Oprah Winfrey Show, but rather a premiere of a new Oprah. As her new network launches — and the need to maintain her loyal fan base grows, Oprah will leave viewers sitting on the edge of their seats They can only wonder up what Oprah will reveal next.