He was a Canadian who spoke fluent French. He was a husband and father who adored his family. He was great at fixing and creating; his garage was acually a well-stocked and beautifully organized workshop. His autobiography, The Answer Is, was published a few months ago. He loved his job and all the people with whom he worked – especially the contestants. And he set a record for hosting the same TV quiz show, Jeopardy, for 36 years.
His name is Alec Trebec and he brought an aura of intelligence and a competitive spirit to quiz show fans. When the announcer, Johnny Gilbert shouted, “This is Jeopardy”and Alex Trebec walked out on stage, the studio audience screamed, and I settled in my recliner to watch my favorite show along with millions of nerdy fans who reserved the 7:30 slot every week night or, as the world became more sophisticated, recorded it.
Alex Trebec died a few days ago, less than two years after his diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Because he had long ago won over his viewers, admiration for him only grew as he candidly shared his cancer journey with his fans. He joked about the wig he didn’t like, shared openly about his struggles with chemotherapy, shed tears when the contestants shared their love and concern for him, and relished the weeks he could work.
He said that he didn’t “foresee” retiring from the show. And he never did. His final day in the Culver City, California studio was October 29, as he wrapped up a season of shows just 10 days before his death. On October 29 he taped five shows in a row (as he had the day before) – his regular schedule. His producer knew he was in terrible pain, though no one else coud tell. The final episode airs on December 25.
I was one of Alex Trebec biggest fans for decades. It was the only show I watched where time flew. Twenty-four minutes into the broadcast, the game was over, and the victor had been declared — and the ads started. I loved his excitement when the writers came up with a unusual category, his thrill when a contestant answered a difficult question, his pride when winners won piles of money. It seems his most fun came during the Tourament of Champions when top winners came back to play against each other. I was very involved in every game, shouting out answers, yelling at the network when it interrupted the show for “BREAKING NEWS“ or at the cable company when the show was aired in fits and starts.
I vividly remember a day more than 20 years ago when a contestant from Michigan was doing very well in the Tournament of Champions. I was as excited every night that week as my sons were about the upcoming NCAA basketball championship which involved a Michigan team. That Friday morning, the last day of the championship, I got my breakfast ready and sat down to read the Detroit Free Press as usual. The first thing I noticed “above the fold” on the front page was a picture of our Michigan contestant. I looked at the picture and started reading the story – and then I totally freaked out. My husband and sons came running. “What’s wrong?” |
“This StuPID PAPER!,” I yelled. “This morning they published the winner of the Jeopardy Championship game happens tonight. Why would they do that?” I was upset all day, but I did watch the show and relished in the victory. The next morning I was still mad. I said to myself, “I should write a letter to the editor.” Myself answered back, “They’ll never published a letter from a middle-aged mom in Imlay City, MI.” I argued back and forth and then sat down to write the letter. It went something like this:
Dear Editor, I would like to protest the publication of the name of the winner of the Jeopardy Championship on the morning before the tournament final was aired. Why would you do that?!!! What are you going to do next, publish the winner of the NCAA championship before the game is even played?
I have to say, I’ve written (and had published) magazine stories, newspaper articles, books for new adult readers, and devotionals as well as more than 900 blog posts, but nothing made me prouder than seeing my letter to the editor in the Detroit Free Press.
Last week I watched a batch of taped Jeopardy shows while I waited for my favorite political commentators on MSNBC and the outstanding Steve Kornacki and his “big board” of data try to make sense of the presidential election. During one of those shows a BREAKING NEWS Banner appeared. It announced the death of Alex Trebec, age 80, host of Jeopardy. I turned off the TV and cried.