To say that 2020 has been tough for everyone in varying degrees would be the understatement of the year. In the midst of grappling with the global coronavirus pandemic and how it’s ignited one of the roughest recessions in American history, repeated incidents of police brutality spurring a shockwave of protests around the world rallying for Black Lives Matter and against racism, a toxic, tumultuous and tiresome elongated election to select the 46th U.S. president – in addition to the regular daily difficulties and tragedies in which we are dealing, 2020 has been physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting.
One of the brighter spots throughout these stressful times is observing how people are finding unique ways to utilize their time to minimize their anxiety and angst like practicing therapeutic self-care techniques, hosting virtual Zoom parties with family and friends, picking up hobbies like bread baking or jigsaw puzzles, and binge-watching zeitgeist television shows such as Netflix’s Tiger King and Love Is Blind. Unfortunately, as much as we enjoy engaging in those hobbies including watching television as a form of temporary escapism, sometimes the brutal bluntness of reality rears in its ugly head and inescapable arms and drags us back down to Earth.
That’s what reading about Alex Trebek’s death at the age of 80 from pancreatic cancer felt like Sunday morning.
Since Jeopardy! returned to television in 1984 after a five-year hiatus from its second NBC run, Alex Trebek has helped make the A&Q game show a syndicated success while establishing himself as a household name and a pop culture icon in the process. Like The Price Is Right and Wheel of Fortune, Trebek has played an integral role in helping Jeopardy! withstand the test of time and temporary trends on television for the past few decades. There is no doubt that his welcoming and affable presence, his enthusiastic and inquisitive nature, sharp sense of humor and his excellent command over the fast-paced hard quizzer has helped propel Jeopardy! into the 39-time Emmy Award-winning, ratings juggernaut it is today. His approach to hosting the show in how he had emphasized the importance of learning and education has also encouraged viewers to become more intellectually curious through solving the show’s creative clues which vary in difficulty and research new intriguing information that might have been foreign to them prior to watching the show. As stoic as he was as a quizmaster, Trebek has never been one to shy away from occasionally showing off his endearing, good-natured and sometimes sarcastic sense of humor, like when he inquired about a contestant’s pygmy goat swallowing concrete mix, the time when he mocked all three contestants for fumbling on a category all about football, the time when he walked onto the set without any pants, and even when he made cameo appearances on the 1980s NBC sitcom Cheers in Cliff Clavin’s infamous Jeopardy! episode and on Conan defending himself against the late-night host ridiculously chopping and editing Trebek’s responses.
For the past few days, it’s been heartwarming yet bittersweet to read the sheer volume of tweets, quotes, comments and statements of celebration, adoration and admiration from fans, former Jeopardy! champions and contestants, celebrities, politicians and so many more.
It was also pretty awesome reading the countless ways the Canadian game show host and his lifelong television work with Jeopardy! impacted the lives for so many people.
For Washington Post television critic Hank Stuever, Trebek’s calm and consistent hosting style combined with the show’s intellectual premise provided a cerebral safe space for those who have grown weary of the chaos 2020 has unearthed and the world’s ignorance and attraction to absorbing misinformation.
For some, Trebek (along with his wife, Jean) is remember as a philanthropist who has given his time and money to support numerous charities and causes including the USO, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, donating acres of land to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and dedicating time to moderate the National Geographic Bee for 25 years to encourage geographic literacy.
For viewers, Trebek’s television presence was a fixture and part a daily routine in millions of homes and offices across America and provided a reason for us to tune in to test their general knowledge and more likely than not become disappointed to see how little we know.
For GOAT Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings, it’s being in awe of Trebek finding the energy to host episode after episode in the same exuberant manner, even on days when he’s not feeling 100%, because he genuinely enjoyed his job.
The latter reason is why I am such a fan of Alex Trebek. What amazed me the most about watching Alex Trebek hosting Jeopardy! for the past couple of decades of my life was how well he was continually able to achieve the same level of enthusiasm, zest and quickfire pace in every game as he did when he first started in 1984 – even at 80 years old! There are few older television personalities that have the ability to maintain that kind of intense hosting style in weeks consisting of taping five shows a day without looking sluggish and as if they should have retired years ago. He is undoubtedly one of them.
There are several reasons to mourn and feel sad about Trebek’s death, from him celebrating the rare one-year milestone of surviving stage 4 pancreatic cancer in March to 2019 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions contender Dhruv Gaur responding “What is we heart you, Alex!” to a Final Jeopardy clue to remembering his comments on how he would conclude his farewell show at the Television Critics Association press tour in January.
However, there was a post which caught my eye while I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook a couple of days ago. This is from game show author, archivist and researcher Adam Nedeff:
Reading that post about how adamant Trebek was about getting back to working on Jeopardy! despite COVID and his cancer diagnosis gave me a sense of comfort and solace in how he spent some of the last few moments of his life by doing the job that he enjoyed the most: being the irreverent and irreplaceable host of Jeopardy!.
Alex Trebek, you will be dearly missed. The indelible legacy you have left through your kind candor, the exceptional way you have hosted the show for so many years and thirst for knowledge will undoubtedly live on in future episodes of Jeopardy!