CHICAGO—The season premiere of The Oprah Winfrey Show unleashed a surprise for viewers Monday, when host Winfrey presented her studio audience with an unexpected gift: eligible men.
"Everybody gets a man! Everybody gets a man!" said Winfrey, almost drowned out by cries of disbelief as 276 men, one for every member of the studio audience, filed onto the Oprah set.
Hoping to top last year's season-debut surprise, when members of the studio audience received free cars, Winfrey watched elated as the men knelt before their awestruck new mates and delivered gallant kisses and professions of undying affection.
"Signed, sealed, delivered... they're yours!" Winfrey said.
Hand-picked by Winfrey and her staff, the men range in age from 29 to 63 and were described by assistant producer Sally Heffernan-Ross as "great catches" with semi-professional to professional careers and stable personalities.
"Oprah showed it can happen: You can get that man of your dreams, or at least of your minimal expectations," Heffernan-Ross said.
The men, dressed in fresh chinos and polo shirts and bearing single red roses and gift baskets from Bath & Body Works, emerged moments after audience members were instructed to reach beneath their chairs, where they found inlaid boxes containing keys.
The keys, Winfrey explained, unlocked the doors to the men's individual domiciles.
"He's yours! He's completely yours!" Winfrey said to one speechless young woman who appeared stunned by what was going on around her. Assuring "no months of awkward dating" or "questions over who's going to make the first move," Winfrey said her man giveaway had totally eliminated the guesswork of romance.
The men Winfrey gave away are guaranteed to enjoy snuggling, to find the few extra pounds gained over time "cute," and to have read at least three books by the poet Maya Angelou.
"Oh, I love Maya," said one of the giveaway men, 32-year-old electrical engineer Doug Jefferson, who also enjoys warm, comfy sweaters. "I think she's very brave. Heck, I love poetry in general. Who doesn't?"
Winfrey had to reassure several of the more timid studio-audience members.
"Don't worry, ladies, they won't be going anywhere," Winfrey said. "Kiss him! Give his behind a little squeeze! It's okay—he's your man!"