Christmas came early this year for two Emory seniors with an unexpected and elaborate surprise — complete with some serious swag — that played out before a national audience Wednesday on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."
To call Felicia Kane and Jaime Guberman fans of Ellen DeGeneres would be an understatement.
“We’re Ellen’s biggest fans,” enthuses Kane, a senior from Great Neck, New York, studying marketing in Emory’s Goizueta Business School.
Kane and Guberman met their first year at Emory and discovered they had much in common, eventually becoming roommates and joining the same Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. “We just connected,” Kane says. “From there the bond grew; we roomed together starting in our sophomore year.”
Another thing they had in common? A shared devotion for "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."
“We both love Ellen and would watch her videos at the end of the day and laugh; that would actually be our nightly routine,” Kane explains.
One day this past spring, as Kane was studying, an email appeared from Guberman, a pre-dental major from Morristown, New Jersey, who was studying abroad in Australia at the time.
“She wrote that she was going to send in for tickets to attend a taping of 'The Ellen Show,'” Kane recalls.
That gave Kane an idea. Browsing the show’s website, she discovered an invitation for viewers to nominate a friend deserving of recognition. In a heartbeat, Kane knew she was going to nominate Guberman.
“She’s been through a lot this year, but you would never know it,” says Kane. “There’s been a lot of loss in the past two years in her family, but the spirit shown by both Jaime and her mom is just incredible.”
“And I just love surprises,” she adds.
The surprise behind the surprise
Fast forward to the week of Thanksgiving break — that’s when Kane and Guberman received an invitation to attend a taping of The Ellen Show.
The story was elaborate: They were being invited to attend a taping on Tuesday, Nov. 28. But since audience seats were already booked, would the pair mind experiencing the show from Ellen’s Riff-Raff Room?
A backstage holding area, the famed Riff-Raff Room features The Ellen Shop, which showcases assorted Ellen merchandise for sale, an Ellen photo booth, and a series of large TV screens to allow fans to watch the show as it’s being taped on the other side of a tall wall.
Together, they jumped at the chance.
By Monday, they were on a plane to California. The next day, they reported to the Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California. “Jaime was so excited,” Kane recalls.
As they stood in the Riff-Raff Room, they could hear the show begin taping through the wall. “We were sort of watching from behind the scenes, which was very cool,” she says. “And the Riff-Raff Room is fabulous. It’s where Ellen sells apparel and accessories from her clothing line. That was an experience in and of itself.”
Next door, they could hear the happy screams of audience members, thrilled to learn that the show would mark Day Six of Ellen’s 12 Days of Giveaways.
But neither could have anticipated what happened next.
About 20 minutes into the taping, DeGeneres announced, “It’s the season of giving, so I’m going to give two lucky audience members a chance to win big. It’s time to play Festive Fingers of Fate.”
“Alright, where are Felicia Kane and Jaime Guberman?” DeGeneres asked.
‘Never in a million years’
Cameras suddenly cut to the Riff-Raff Room, where Kane and Guberman were jumping up and down in glee. “It was totally a surprise to both of us,” Kane says. “We had no idea that we were going to be on Ellen. They didn’t tell us anything.”
Hurrying in to join the studio audience, “we were really surprised and excited — I almost fell down the stairs,” she says. “Believe me, the energy you see on the screen was even bigger in person. Everyone is so joyful and happy to be there.”
Running screaming onto the stage, the pair hugged DeGeneres and introduced themselves. Then the host let them in on a secret: “We were going to play a game, but we don’t have time for the game, and we kind of know about you because you wrote in.”
Radiating excitement, Kane nodded and gave a quick recap. Ellen’s biggest fans. Met freshman year. Watch the show every night before bed. Jaime’s been through a lot. All they really wanted was tickets to see the show.
“Never in a million years did we think that this would really happen,” said Kane, jumping up and down in her enthusiasm.
“We wanted to breathe your air,” Guberman chimed in.
DeGeneres explained: they actually did have seats in the audience. And they were going to receive everything being given away during that day’s promotion. “Also, you’re going to be my elves, so you’re going to help give stuff away,” the host revealed.
The pair was immediately rushed backstage to hair and makeup. Soon, they skipped back onstage wearing candy cane-striped leggings, petticoats and puffy skirts, white patent-leather pumps and pointed elf hats.
Standing near tWitch, the show’s DJ, they danced and laughed with the rest of the audience as Ellen revealed the day’s gifts: a $300 collection of coffee brewers, carousels and pods from Keurig; a $400 Cuisinart food processor; $500 in Calphalon cookware; a Char-broil gas grill; a $300 gift card to World Market; and a two-night stay at Wyndham Resorts properties.
“It was amazing,” reflects Kane says. “We just had smiles on our faces and were jumping around the whole time. No matter what came out of her mouth, we were screaming and just happy to be there.”
The magic of meeting Ellen
In the end, the four-hour visit flew by. And beyond the shock of it all, both women were grateful for the chance to meet DeGeneres.
“She was everything I’ve ever imagined and more,” Kane says. “You meet her, and she’s just glowing. Her smile radiates, and you can really feel her spirit and energy.”
That was Tuesday. On Wednesday, the pair was back in Atlanta by 6:45 a.m. to attend classes. Their larger gifts will be mailed home; others were sent with them — useful items for the two soon-to-be graduates.
“I’ll think more about what to do with it all over winter break,” reflects Kane. “I may donate some of it and see if we can help others.”
When their episode finally aired Wednesday afternoon, Kane and Guberman gathered with friends at an apartment for “a little viewing party.”
“Everyone was just so excited for us — it was crazy,” she adds. “It’s still surreal to even talk about. We were sitting there watching ourselves on TV like, ‘Did this really happen?’”
“But that memory, that moment, is something we’ll have forever,” she says.