Texas, like all places, is the site of both triumphs and tragedies. Every Friday in the Best Thing in Texas, we look for something that reminds us why we love our state so much.
WHAT: A surprise on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
WHO: KHOU reporter Brandi Smith and truck driver Robert Roberson.
WHY IT’S SO GREAT: One of the most memorable moments from Hurricane Harvey was when Brandi Smith, a reporter for Houston CBS affiliate KHOU, helped first responders save a stranded truck driver as floodwater filled his cabin. The drama played out on live television, and Smith became representative of the selfless acts of heroism all over the state as Harvey pummeled us with rain and flooded our streets and homes.
As a reporter, there’s really no way to remain an objective observer in a situation like this—doing so would mean setting aside your empathy for other human lives. Yet Smith somehow managed to both save this man and keep reporting, giving us a document that is truly emblematic of both the worst of Harvey—threatening us with its high, murky-brown floodwaters—and the best: the first responders and volunteers who worked together to save lives.
The video quickly went viral. Smith was lauded as a hero, and rightfully so. But she had virtually no chance to bask in the glow of her newfound fame, as she continued to report throughout the storm, doing her job, and doing it well. So when Ellen DeGeneres invited Smith to be on her show this week, it was a well-deserved reward.
“When I first found out about the possibility of being on The Ellen Show, I was floored,” Smith writes about the experience for KHOU. “There are so many other examples of heroism on display during Harvey: first responders working tirelessly to save people, Good Samaritans jumping in boats to pull strangers out of flooded homes, neighbors taking in neighbors whose homes took on water. There were also many examples of fellow reporters—here in Houston and beyond—who stepped beyond their role as a journalist to help others. My thanks goes out to everyone who helped in any way while Houston was battered by its worst storm in history.”
“So there I am, ready to go on stage and meet Ellen for the first time, silently coaching myself not to stutter or sound like an idiot (not sure I succeeded entirely), then…BOOM! I get the cue, and it’s time to walk out,” Smith writes. “The rest is honestly a blur. I remember getting to hug Ellen (awesome!), stumbling through my answers (less than awesome!).”
Something very awesome happened next. Ellen brought out Robert Roberson, the truck driver Smith helped save, and the pair were reunited on the show in a warm moment. This isn’t the first time Smith and Roberson have been reunited since fate first brought them together during Harvey—Roberson and his wife, Virginia, welcomed Smith and KHOU photographer Mario Sandoval, who was also there for the rescue, into their Mississippi home earlier this month. Sitting on their patio, the Robersons chatted with Smith and Sandoval about their incredible shared experience. On Ellen, Roberson and his wife emerged from the curtain backstage, Roberson carrying a bouquet of flowers, and exchanged tearful hugs with Smith and Ellen. “I feel like Miss America!” Smith said through tears, after Roberson handed her the flowers. “Thank you for saving my life,” Roberson told Smith. “You will always be my angel.” It was nice.
Perhaps even nicer was the $25,000 check Ellen handed Smith to go toward Harvey relief, which Smith said will go to Rebuild Texas. Ellen also announced that Cheerios is donating 50,000 boxes of cereal for Harvey victims. Ellen even handed Roberson a $10,000 check.
“I have to tell you, the Robersons are so grateful to Mario and the deputies for helping to save Robert’s life,” Smith wrote. “As you might imagine, they’re also pretty over the moon about the $10,000 Ellen gifted to them. Robert says he’s going to take Virginia to see ‘some of that blue water.'”