For over 30 years, Alex Trebek was welcomed into homes all around the world as they tuned into Jeopardy. Sometimes I thought he acted like a know-it-all but it was difficult not to admire his ability to come on stage five nights a week and make the game of Trivia so interesting. I often wondered if he knew as many answers as he seemed to or if he had the answers in front of him and just acted like he knew them. Over the years, though, I realized he knew a whole LOT more than I did! And he ALWAYS remembered to put the response in the form of a question. It seemed like he became more human after he announced his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer last year. He was more engaged with the contestants and seemed to bond with many of them. The period when James Holzhauer was crushing it every night, you could see that Alex was really enjoying himself. And it was obvious that James had a soft spot in his heart for the host as well. It seemed like the contestants were going out of their way to make Alex’s job more rewarding. After all, he still came on the show every night even while being in extreme pain and after he started treatment. So, when I heard the news of his death on November 8, it felt like I lost a friend. Soon, I would not see him on my TV at 7:30 every weekday night. This was a strange feeling for me as, of course, I did not know him personally and until recently, I wasn’t sure if I even liked him! But as a friend correctly said, “You invited him into your living room five nights a week for many years. Of course, you will miss him.” This is what James wrote after he learned of Alex's passing:
"Alex was so much more than a host. He was an impartial arbiter of truth and facts in a world that needs exactly that. He was someone you could count on to entertain you every weekday, even when his health barely allowed it. And he was an underrated rapper:"
Trebek was born in Ontario, Canada on July 22, 1940 to an immigrant father and a Franco-Ontarian (which is just a fancy way of saying a French-Canadian born in Ontario) mother. His given name was George Alexander Trebek. He graduated from The University of Ottawa with a degree in philosophy. But he knew he wanted a career in broadcasting as he started working for the Canadian Broadcasting Company before he graduated. He moved to the US in 1973 and began a career with NBC on a game show. He went back and forth between NBC and CBS hosting a number of shows and in 1984 worked with Merv Griffin on the revival of Jeopardy! which, as we all know now, turned into a 36-year career for him.
Alex has said, “I think what makes Jeopardy! special is that, among all the quiz and game shows out there, ours tends to reward and encourage learning.” I know I am happy if I can get at least two of the questions right during that half hour. But, as a contestant, there is a lot more to it than just knowing stuff. You have to be quick on the buzzer (case in point – just recently, a contestant got every response correct that he was able to buzz in on but he kept losing out at the buzzer to another player and fell behind in the game). The other interesting thing is how some contestants are chosen based on their “likeability”. I never really thought about that until I read how one person tried out three times before they let her on the show – and that was because she really was not very likeable. I remember thinking – yes, that’s why I looked it up – I really didn’t like her! Then there was the contestant many years ago that had such a Valley Girl accent (“I’ll take P’s and Q’s for Two Hunnndddrreed”) I really hoped she would lose. I felt bad about that until I was talking to a friend’s son about the show. Years earlier, he had been a contestant and won three games (yep - smart guy!). During our conversation, he mentioned how he couldn’t watch it when the woman who sounded like a “Valley Girl” was playing – it drove him crazy. So, it wasn’t just me after all!
Christmas Day 2020 will be the last show that Alex will host. I will be watching, all the while knowing that things will never be the same when I turn on the TV at 7:30 pm. RIP Alex, you will be missed.