The bitter behind-the-scenes end of that famous Oprah 'you get a car' moment.

It’s one of the most memorable moments in the history of Oprah Winfrey’s famed talk show: that one time she gave a car – brand new Pontiac G6, to be exact – to each and every member of her studio audience.

That’s 276 cars in total, valued at a cool AU$9.8 million.

After bringing 11 teachers onto her talk show’s stage and giving them all cars, each audience member was given a perfectly-wrapped box.

“Everybody in the audience is being given a special package… and I do not want you to open it. Do not open until I tell you,” Oprah told the crowd.

Video via YouTube

“Inside one of these boxes is a key…DO NOT OPEN IT YET.

“Here is the deal, if your box has a key you will be the last person today to get one of those cute little G6’s.”

The catch, of course, was that every single box contained a key, prompting Oprah to scream, “You get a car, you get a car, you get a car… everybody gets a car!”

The moment has become one of the most famous ‘Oprah moments’ of all time, and has even become one of the internet’s favourite memes.



But a three-part podcast – Making Oprah: The inside story of a TV revolution – that looks into the now 64-year-old’s rise to fame has revealed just how much work went into the magical moment.

First, producers had to battle with the car company to increase their offer of 25 free cars to 276 (the company initially offered the cars to the show after Oprah’s best friend, Gayle King, struck up a conversation with an executive from the Pontiac car company on a flight).

Then, Oprah wanted to ensure the cars were going to fans who really, truly deserved to be given a brand new car.

LISTEN: We discuss the likelihood of Oprah running for President in 2020. Post continues below.

“When we sat down and started to talk about the car giveaway, I asked ‘how do we find people who really need cars?’ Because that would make it worth it to me,” Oprah said.

So, potential audience members were screened by being given a questionnaire that asked them things like “how do you get to work?” and “how old is your car?”

The night before the episode was due to air, Oprah, “famously obsessed with detail”, stayed in the studio until 11pm, working with producers to re-tie each and every bow on the 276 cars because “they were too small”.


“I remember walking through seeing [the producers] putting the bows on the cars and the bows were too small in my opinion, so I said ‘the bows are too small’ and they said ‘but we’ve already done most of the bows’,” Oprah said.

“And I go ‘you gotta redo the bows, because the bows should cover the whole hood of the car’.

“You want the bow to make an impression, because so much of a gift is about how it’s packaged.”

Then, she noticed an issue with the boxes hiding the car keys for her audience members. It turns out, if the box was shaken, the key could be heard, which would ruin the surprise of the moment. So they were unpacked and re-packed at the very last possible moment.

oprah car gift
Each audience member was given a box, containing a car key.

But despite the joy on her audience-members faces as they realised they were the recipients of brand new vehicles, it wasn't all good news: some complained to the press after realising they would still have to pay a "gift tax" on the cars.

"It was devastating after, because 'gift tax' is a thing, and it's always a complicated thing when you're giving stuff away," producer Lisa Erspamer told the podcast.

"But we paid for the sales tax and the registration for each car, and we told the audience after, if they didn't want to have to pay a gift tax, they could actually take cash for the car.

"We put our whole soul into this moment of television and with real intention to do something good, and so when people had a negative reaction, it like literally hurt our feelings."

oprah car gift reactions
The show experienced some backlash after the audience realised they had to pay a "gift tax" on the cars.

The producers also discovered the episode would be hard to beat, and noticed became harder and harder to surprise, because "all the audience wanted cars".

Despite the stress involved in the episode, Oprah described the moment as "magical".

"When you watch 276 people have total meltdowns, you're just so happy for them," she said.

"It's so nice to see people that happy."

Listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud here, where we discuss everything from space, to O bikes, to Barnaby Joyce...