Inside Oprah And Gayle's Hilarious Episode of 'Colonial House'

For one brief season in 2004, there was a PBS reality show called Colonial House, in which modern day participants lived round-the-clock in a replica of a 1628 Plymouth Colony village. Colonial House had some very special guests when Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King dropped in to live and work with them for an episode of Oprah's talk show but no one could have known that their episode would turn out to the one of the funniest TV moments in recent memory.

Colonial House was designed to be a realistic recreation of what it was like to live in colonial America. Filmed at a remote outpost in Maine, the show was overseen by historians and experts to insure a high level of accuracy, but they were not prepared for the likes of some of television's most sophisticated queens. Though the two friends would take away some meaningful lessons from the experience, it was, first and foremost, a hoot to watch them try to adjust to a very different life.

Here is a rundown of their time in seventeenth century America.

  • Oprah Was There To Learn, Gayle Not So Much

    Oprah Was There To Learn, Gayle Not So Much
    Photo: PBS

    When they set out for their epic colonial adventure, Oprah anticipates a valuable learning experience and parallels to her own childhood. Her own family had no television and grew their own food. As for Gayle, she isn't feeling it as much. "I grew up with a toilet and a maid," Gayle says, already reluctant before even reaching the set. Perhaps Gayle's reservations were well-founded, though. She and Oprah had no idea the challenges and hilarity they were about to face.

  • They Had To Dress In Authentic Attire

    They Had To Dress In Authentic Attire
    Photo: PBS

    One of the first things Oprah and Gayle have to do to play authentic Puritans (or African Puritans, as the duo call themselves) is give up their way-too-comfortable modern clothing. Women in 1628 didn't wear bras, panties were unheard of, and corsets were the norm. The restrictive clothing reflected the restrictive lives women were expected to lead. As Oprah and Gayle find out, adjusting to a life without panties is much more difficult than one might first imagine. "I should have asked more about this project before I came," Oprah admitted.

  • They Were The First Black People To Appear On The Show

    They Were The First Black People To Appear On The Show
    Photo: PBS

    Oprah and Gayle were Colonial House's first participants of color. "[We were] the first Puritan African sojourners to pass through the colony," Oprah remembered. The experience prompted a conversation about what it must have been like for black people during that era. Oprah noted that, though the show was realistic, it was not at all feasible to believe that two people of color - women of color, no less - would be such an equal part of village life. "We wouldn't have been sitting at the table," she said.

  • They Had To Surrender All Modern Conveniences

    They Had To Surrender All Modern Conveniences
    Photo: PBS

    Obviously, there were no cellphones, televisions, computers, refrigerators, or deodorant in 1628. Every cushy aspect of present day life had to be surrendered to make the experience realistic for both participants and viewers. At this point, Oprah and Gayle began to suspect that this isn't exactly going to be a peaceful, relaxing retreat from the modern world. "There's nothing simple about the simple life," one Colonial House villager says. "It's hard work."

  • Gayle Was Too Scared To Pee

    Gayle Was Too Scared To Pee
    Photo: PBS

    When the candles are snuffed out for the night and everyone turns in, there is, in Oprah's words, "a night so dark that I can close my eyes and open them again to see the same pitch-black." This darkness is terrifying for Gayle, who is too scared to get up and use the restroom in the night. Instead, she waits for Oprah and the two scramble out into the rain at 3:00 in the morning to squat in the bushes. When they return to the sleeping loft, Gayle is convinced she hears something scratching and skittering across the roof above them. "If a mouse drops in from the ceiling," Oprah tells her, "it's over for me."

  • There Was A Code Of Conduct

    There Was A Code Of Conduct
    Photo: PBS

    Colonial House instituted many of the same codes of conduct you would have found in a real Puritan village. Puritans were called Puritans for a reason: they strived to live ethically, spiritually, and religiously pure lives. When people fell short of that goal, there was punishment. Whippings and getting tied to stakes were common. "Nobody better tie me to a stake," Oprah tells Gayle, "or they are gonna see a real African Puritan."