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  • Writer's pictureWes Hazard

Remembering Alex

I absolutely got choked up watching this, the tribute to Alex Trebek that was played at the end of the final episode of Jeopardy! that he hosted before passing away last year.The episode was broadcast today and I just finished watching it about 10 minutes ago. I've talked a bunch about Jeopardy!, Alex, and my brief and treasured experience on the show in WesRecs before so I'll just say that it would be impossible for him to be better at his job, that he was a national institution that brought wit, gravitas, class, and intelligence to millions of Americans every night like clockwork, and that while Jeopardy! will live on without him it will never ever be the same. Godspeed Mr. Trebek.


Additionally I found this article particularly illuminating.

The number 1 question you get when people find out you were on Jeopardy! is "Did you win???". The number 2 question is "What was Alex like???". And to that I always respond "I have no idea" which is true, because as many people don't realize, as a contestant your interaction with Alex is limited pretty much entirely to what ends up on screen at home. A lot of that has to do with the laws they enacted after the 1950s quiz show scandals which limit on-set interaction to reduce the possibility or appearance of collaboration/cheating/etc. The only "extra" time I got with him was the end of the episodes as the credits rolled. I definitely appreciated that time but it was no way enough to get any sense of Alex the man. I liked reading this piece because it gave an unvarnished glimpse of some small part of an entertainment icon. I can never dream of him being a dramatic actor, but apparently that's what he moved to Hollywood to do before he wound up behind the podium. It's hard to think of him humoring a series of prank calls that went on for decades but he did just that. He got injured chasing down a burglar in a hotel?? Wild. And the thought of him with a .45 in each hand blasting away like Bruce Willis is just...wut...but he had that fantasy. I have watched that man's face for more hours than any actor, any other entertainer, and most members of my own family and it's weird and wonderful to know how little I actually know about him.

(P.S. The number 3 question I've been asked about Jeopardy! is, strangely, "Do they tell you the categories beforehand or give you a study guide?" Which...just...NO! Of course not. What on Earth would have ever given you that impression?????)

For the millions of people who watch Jeopardy! every weeknight, not to mention the thousands who have competed on the show, Trebek was a singular television presence, a beacon of intelligence and authority whose identity was inextricable from the quiz show he captained for more than 36 years. He was also an enigma: Federal regulations dating to the 1950s quiz show scandals meant that his interactions with contestants were almost always limited to the short conversations that appeared on camera during the nightly game. As his tenure holding court with each evening’s answers and questions draws to a close, it’s worth asking: Who was Alex Trebek?


Trebek was lukewarm on the idea of game shows, to say the least. “I don’t want to do this all my life,” he said in 1974, the year after he moved to L.A. “Hell, I don’t even watch game shows. But it gets me down here, opens the door into films. I know it’s not the usual route, but anything can happen.” Game shows were simply a waystation to acting—or so he thought. “If they had needed a weatherman,” he said in 1986, “I would have been a weatherman.”


Indeed, Trebek continued making Jeopardy! until the very end, taping his last episode just a week and a half before he passed. In October, Jeopardy! had to cancel two weeks of taping on short notice; Trebek had intestinal surgery, according to executive producer Mike Richards. A week before what would end up being his final pair of tape days in the studio in late October, Richards remembered telling him, “Alex, you’re barely up and around. We have a long way to go before you’re gonna be back in the studio taping.”

“I’ll be there,” Trebek replied—he had managed to get down some Jell-O that day, after all. “Don’t you cancel anything.”


On the drive home, Trebek turned to him. “He says, ‘Well, you know what I want to do? I want to be like Bruce Willis in that movie with a .45 automatic in each hand.’”

So they went back to the range a second time. They loaded up the .45s, and Trebek attempted his best Bruce Willis. It was, alas, not for him, Miller says—Trebek aggravated an old wrist injury. For the man who might have been a lifelong broadcaster, or a movie star, or a weatherman, it was just one more hat worth trying on.

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