Lights, camera, action… a slight blond figure takes the stage as the game show Jeopardy! begins. Legendary host Alex Trebek, urbane and friendly, welcomes him to the show for what seems like the millionth time. As usual, the two are having the chat that begins the contest. But this time, Ken Jennings has something to say that’s just a bit strange…
Jennings wasn’t just any contestant on the long-running quiz show, though. No, he was the greatest. Not only did he win 74 times on the spin, but he also scooped a whole pile of money during his run.
In fact, the unassuming trivia buff won the most cash of any quizzer, going into the history books by becoming a millionaire more than twice over.
Not that Jennings let it go to his head. He was a gracious and much-loved contestant, who enjoyed a friendly chat with Trebek before each show. All part of the game, of course.
But after a while, a bit of craziness entered their exchanges, and Jennings indulged in some creative myth-building. Yet all the while, the genial host simply smiled and nodded.
A native of the state of Washington who spent his earliest years close to Seattle, Jennings didn’t stay there for long. With his lawyer dad stationed in different places across the globe, the youngster went with him, spending time in exotic spots such as Singapore and South Korea. In time, he returned to the States for college.
There, he found the love of his life, Mindy, and later married her. With a job as a software engineer, he settled down with his wife and kids in Utah.
The quizzer was actually a citizen of Salt Lake City, an apt place for a Mormon. The likeable trivia hound then found himself in Los Angeles in his late 20s, on a visit with a pal. He and his buddy had long thought about trying out for Jeopardy!
Little did he know, though, that one fine day in 2004 he’d not only appear on the show but also become its most famous player.
But not on that trip! When Jennings and his pal phoned the production company, they found out that there was nothing doing that week. Still, he wasn’t going to give up just yet.
So the pair turned up again a little while later and were sent to an audition at the Radisson hotel. It went well, with the two of them making it through.
That was just the audition, though, and the pair then went on the list for the show. It was back to his cubicle and the tedium of software programming for Jennings.
The dream of TV glory became more and more distant as the months went by until the whole idea had dwindled to nothing. But then there was a phone call, telling him he’d be making an appearance on Jeopardy! in a few weeks.
So off the trivia buff went. And it might surprise you to learn, given how well Jennings would go on to do, that he’d set his sights relatively low.
He told the Vulture website in 2020, “I didn’t want to be negative going into Final Jeopardy!” All he cared about was avoiding the shame of crashing out without making the last round. He just wanted to win once, so he’d always be able to say he was a champion of Jeopardy!
Loved the show
Jennings would be in good company if he could win — he knew that. He was actually something of a Jeopardy! buff.
He’d loved the show when he was a youngster and he could even tell you the names of all the top quizzers who’d starred in the program over the years. So all he really cared about was getting his name up there with the previous winners.
But things didn’t go perfectly for Jennings at the first time of asking. Shockingly, he even got some responses wrong! Not something that viewers would get used to seeing. One of them was a question about countries. It was: “In April 1939 this country absorbed Albania.”
Now, Greece was a perfectly sensible answer — it’s right next to Albania — but not the right one, which is Italy!
Of course, some few wrong turns didn’t hold Jennings back. He went on to win. And win and win and win. The rules had been altered not long before he came on, allowing the champ to keep coming back more or less forever.
Well, he didn’t last quite that long — eventually tripping over a question about tax firm H&R Block — but for half a year and 74 shows, he was the man.
Given that Jeopardy! was a firm family favorite, Kennings became much loved. He turned up everywhere, entertaining viewers on The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show, for instance.
Newspapers hailed him, with The Christian Science Monitor calling him “the king of Trivia Nation.” Not everyone was quite so complimentary, though, with ESPN’s magazine describing him as “smarmy.”
Still, one man’s “smarmy” is another man’s loveable. And one guy who did seem to love the good-natured Jennings was the show’s host Trebek.
Letterman actually had a running joke that Trebek adored him so much that he helped Jennings by cheating (he didn’t, of course). Trebek would even say one time, “Welcome to the Alex and Ken show.”
His own way
Jennings had his own way of playing. Instead of, like some, shifting across the board in search of easy answers, he’d go down the list top to bottom.
He also betted on his responses in an idiosyncratic way, which seemed to be aimed at ensuring that he’d finish the day by winning a round figure. And he’d have a bit of fun with it, too.
The quizzer would respond to country questions with an accent from that country.
One time, when asked about hip-hop music, Jennings — not the most likely fan of the genre — answered, “What is rap, yo?” And his brand of folksy charm revitalized a show that was possibly showing its age. People tuned in to see just how far the “Seabiscuit of geekdom” could go.
In an age before “going viral” was even really a thing, Jennings went viral. Across America, he was a topic of conversation on chat-boards and blogs.
People loved his kindness, clapping when his opponents got a tough one right, and the good manners and courtesy typical of his religious background. And they admired his Totoro doll, the Japanese toy he had along with him for luck.
Jennings did actually have some awareness of how he appeared on the show. It was important to him to make a good impression. When he made his Jeopardy! debut, he told the tale of a time he ran out of gas when he was in the desert in Nevada.
He’d had to hitchhike with some people he might otherwise not have traveled with. Typically for him, he said thank you during the show.
That wasn’t the only story that Jennings told on the show, of course. Whenever he appeared, he’d have to provide a brand new tale.
He revealed to Vulture that the show’s producers would regularly call him and say, “You’re taping again next week, we need more stories for your cards!” But he was just a quiet guy with an everyday sort of life in Utah.
What could the quizzer do, though? He didn’t have anything left to share with the viewers. But he also realized that the show didn’t put in any effort to find out whether he was telling the truth.
So when he was asked for yet more stories, the trivia king put his imagination to work. Yes, that’s right — he started to invent tales.
But if you’re imagining a trip to the Moon or a hidden life of international crime, well, your imagination’s probably a bit stronger than Jennings’!
He told Vulture, “Alex would look at my card and be like, ‘Hey, Ken, it says here you really like airline food.’” And Jennings would of course confirm that. And no matter what the tale, Trebek would always give the same quizzical look.
Sense of humor
The show’s fact-checkers did not, of course, ask Jennings’ family and friends if he really does enjoy airline meals. A reddit user recalled a time when the quiz genius’ sense of humor got a workout.
On one show, they recounted, Trebek had suggested that Jennings was running low on things to say and asked if he had a tale to share. Jennings deadpanned, “Well, Alex, I once shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.”
Another redditor, who’d also been a contestant themselves, explained that a whole week of episodes is put on tape every day. So contestants needed five little stories to begin with.
Then they have to come up with two each time they take part, so that the one they’re asked is a bit of a surprise. The show’s staff makes sure they can answer with ease.
One story that Jennings can legitimately tell is that he once had a roommate whom you might have heard of. Well, if you’re a huge nerd that is!
He lived with Brandon Sanderson, well known in the geek world as a best-selling writer of fantasy books. Sanderson moved in with the quiz nut and lived with him until he moved out to get married.
Taste of success
So what was success like for Jennings? Did he move to L.A. to be on the show? Apparently not. He’d come down for a couple days and film a bunch of episodes.
But he had to do this in secret because the actual programs wouldn’t appear on TV for several months. The only people who knew what he was up to were his boss and his wife.
Nobody else had the faintest idea what the trivia monster was up to. He began by staying at a friend’s home in Orange County but he needed to be nearer to the studio.
So then he slept at a tiny motel that wasn’t very glamorous. Imagine the motel owner’s face when he realized the man in room 30 was a millionaire quiz-winner!
The champion actually played something like 50 games before anyone even saw him on TV. But once his episodes started airing, things changed. Other contestants now recognized him —and that was actually a downer.
The hopeful expressions on their faces quickly vanished after they spotted him! Jennings started turning up as late as possible so he could avoid them.
Simply the best
All good things come to an end, of course, and eventually Jennings was vanquished. But that wasn’t the end of Jeopardy! for him. He later turned up in all sorts of champions’ quiz-offs.
For example, in 2020 he took on a couple of the show’s biggest winners in a special show called Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time. Unsurprisingly, Jennings took the crown. The show then snapped up his talents as a consultant.
It wasn’t alone. Another ABC quiz show, The Chase, hired Jennings so that contestants could test their mettle against the GOAT. Other Jeopardy! legends also appear with him, offering quite a trivia challenge.
And that isn’t the only place that you might’ve seen the mild-mannered quiz champ. He’s also turned up on shows as varied as Sesame Street and The Simpsons.
If that isn’t enough Jennings for you, you can also read about his exploits on the show in his memoir, Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs.
He’s penned several other works of nonfiction as well, offering his own brand of wit and wisdom. And, of course, you won’t be surprised to learn that he’s the author of a trivia book.
With Jennings’ engaging personality and grasp of trivia, it was probably inevitable that he’d step into the shoes of Trebek on the quizmaster’s passing. Yes, the greatest of all Jeopardy! champions has gone on to become a host of the show.
He shares that duty with actress Mayim Bialik. But before they took over, a number of famous faces appeared as guest hosts — with varying degrees of success.
Dr. Mehmet Oz
To say Dr. Mehmet Oz was an unpopular choice would be an understatement. Viewers actually launched an appeal to remove the controversial TV star from the show!
Co-created by two past contestants, a petition on Medium.com was signed by a total of 600 fans.
Unpopular with many
Why was Oz such a lightning rod for bad feeling? Well, the petition made it clear.
“Throughout his nearly two decades on television, he has used his authority as a doctor to push harmful ideas on to the American public – in stark contrast with his oath to first do no harm,” it said. Dr. Oz advocated hydroxychloroquine as a way to combat COVID-19, for instance.
And the doctor’s performance on the show was widely criticized, too. Emily Seaman, a contestant on one of Oz’s episodes, told The New York Post, “It was just odd.
I don’t think he likes Jeopardy!” She also claimed that he struggled to say a difficult word during the Final Jeopardy! round, and that meant the segment had to be re-shot up to eight times. Oh dear.
“Joe Buck shouldn’t even be a sports announcer.” “I will never watch a single episode of Jeopardy! featuring Joe Buck.” “If there’s one person that would disrespect the class and honor of hosting Jeopardy!, it’s Joe Buck.”
That’s just a small taste of the social media fury that came after the Fox Sports commentator was announced as a guest host.
Just not the right choice
And while social media doesn’t speak for the whole world, it definitely wasn’t the reaction producers were looking for.
Perhaps the backlash came because he wasn’t LeVar Burton, who many fans have been desperate to see host.
Savannah Guthrie’s time as Jeopardy! guest host was fairly uneventful. When news broke that she had landed the temporary gig, she shared photos that showed her on the Jeopardy!
set, along with the message “So honored and excited for this!” But for some observers, that seemed to ring a bit hollow.
No fan favorite
Guthrie didn’t appear to be a genuine Jeopardy! superfan like some of the other guest hosts. And while viewers didn’t hold this against her, it may have dampened the enthusiasm of a certain section of the fanbase.
Even her Today co-stars’ well wishes were lackluster, with Al Roker replying, “So excited for tonight!” and Natalie Morales adding, “Amazing!” Is that the best they could come up with?
When 60 Minutes journalist and Jeopardy! fan Bill Whitaker was asked if he wanted to guest host, he jumped at the chance. But he was totally unprepared for the fanfare that surrounded his appointment.
He told The Washington Post, “I truly did think, silly me, that I was going to be a Jeopardy! guest host and carry on with my life as usual.” That definitely wasn’t the case.
Whitaker was met with a whole lotta scrutiny, including column inches in People magazine and The Hollywood Reporter.
He admitted that the fast-paced nature of hosting a game show took a bit of getting used to, and ultimately that reflected in his performance. It wasn’t bad, per se, but it was a tad wooden.
Zero stage presence
Whitaker was able to do the basics of hosting, but he struggled to inject real personality into proceedings. Game shows are meant to be entertaining as well as brain-teasing, after all. As one fan tweeted, “Current Jeopardy!
host Bill Whitaker seems like a pleasant enough fellow. He also has the stage presence of a coat rack.” Ouch.
When David Faber got the guest host gig, he sent out a solid gold tweet.
The Squawk on the Street co-host wrote, “He is the least well-known out of an incredible group of guest hosts but promises not to disappoint Jeopardy’s many fans. Correct response – this guy!”
The tweet undoubtedly proved Faber was at least a fan of the show, and that goes a long way. He was able to bring his experience on Celebrity Jeopardy!
to his hosting duties, too, and we reckon he did a solid job overall. He wasn’t one of the best guest hosts, but he certainly wasn’t one of the worst, either.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta
“I used to watch Jeopardy! with my parents and now with my own kids,” Dr. Sanjay Gupta tweeted when he was announced as a guest host. “The thing is, there is just something so beautiful and reassuring about facts; simple, straightforward facts.
I cherish that. An honor to be an upcoming guest host, but seriously miss the great Alex Trebek.”
Gupta took time out from his duties as the associate chief of neurosurgery at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital.
And he did well on the show, easily eclipsing the other medical professional chosen to step in as guest host. Sorry, Dr. Oz. But you were no Dr. Gupta.
Not long after Trebek’s unfortunate passing, reports emerged that George Stephanopoulos wanted the full-time job hosting Jeopardy! He had already told Howard Stern, “I think it would be a lot of fun.” But an ABC source denied that Stephanopoulos was campaigning for the role.
That would have been disrespectful to Trebek’s family, you see. It also wouldn’t have been a good look for the GMA co-anchor.
Not his first rodeo
But Stephanopoulos did at least become a guest host. He did a good job, too, with his decades of familiarity with the American public making him a compelling presence.
Let’s not forget that Stephanopoulos was referenced on Friends, played himself in Spin City, and was reportedly the basis for Rob Lowe’s character in The West Wing!
Buzzy Cohen exactly didn’t bring much mainstream name recognition to his hosting role at the 2021 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions. But for fans of the show, he was a familiar – and beloved – face.
Lest we forget, he appeared on Jeopardy! in 2016. He even went on to win the 2017 edition of Tournament of Champions.
Contestant turned host
During his time on the show as a contestant, Cohen was dubbed “Mr. Personality” by Trebek, which should tell you something about his charisma.
And the former music exec – whose real name is Austin David Cohen – took to Twitter to spill his excitement at being chosen to host the tournament. He even made it a family affair.
We're getting somewhere
Cohen tweeted a video of his nephew’s jaw dropping when his mother said, “Guess what? Uncle Buzzy is going to be the host of Jeopardy!!” Alongside the clip, he posted, “Same emotion when I found out I was hosting Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions.”
So he was like a returning hero to the show, and he made everyone smile. Nobody can complain about that.
History was made when Jeopardy! producers announced Robin Roberts as a guest host. That’s because the GMA co-anchor became the first black woman ever in the role.
It was another step forward for representation, and it made a lot of people get emotional on social media.
Win for diversity
One fan tweeted, “Excuse me while I cry,” while another wrote, “Great to see a female representing, and especially since it’s the great Robin Roberts.”
Considering the show has sometimes faced criticism for its lack of black contestants, it was a small step toward addressing that imbalance. Perhaps Roberts’ hosting gig will attract a more diverse base of people to apply for the show?
When Mike Richards stepped in as guest host of Jeopardy!, fans would have been forgiven for not recognizing him. He isn’t a famous actor, musician, or news anchor. He definitely isn’t on the A-list.
But Richards was a perfect choice. He was the executive producer of Jeopardy!, you see!
Richards is also something of a game show expert. During his career, he has executive produced Let’s Make a Deal, The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune, and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
His hosting skills were also honed on Beauty and the Geek and The Pyramid. That’s one pretty packed resume!
Not as well known
Viewers immediately warmed to Richards, with his slick delivery and razor-sharp wit recalling the late Trebek. And he did a great job of staying in the same lane as Trebek while never falling into the trap of trying to imitate the legendary presenter.
The only reason he isn’t higher on this list is because he isn’t as famous as some of the other guest hosts.
Katie Couric seemed to split viewers when she guest hosted Jeopardy! Some fans loved that she brought her bubbly personality to the role. Others?
They felt she drew attention away from the contestants. And Twitter reactions varied wildly from high praise to complete disdain.
First woman on the show
Couric still made history when she hosted the show, as she was the first woman to ever do so. And during her two weeks on camera, she helped raise an impressive $230,000 for Stand Up to Cancer.
She took her opportunity and did her best with it, which is why we’ve placed her relatively high on our list.
Taking a pass
At the end of her stint, Couric was asked by Poynter if she would ever consider hosting the show full time. She replied, “It was a really fun thing to do. But I love what I’m doing now.” And she did say that filming Jeopardy!
had made her respect Trebek and the contestants even more, as shooting five shows in one day had been gruelling.
CNN host Anderson Cooper was a natural at hosting Jeopardy!, and fans mostly thought so, too. Somehow, though, he wound up with the worst first-week ratings of any of the guest hosts.
That’s why he hasn’t quite hit the heights on our countdown that his hosting skills deserved.
Not backed up with the numbers
Cooper’s first seven days got a 5.1 rating, which lagged far behind Aaron Rodgers’ at 5.6 and Ken Jennings’ at 6.2. He also lost out to Dr. Oz, who drew a 5.2 rating.
Yes, he somehow attracted fewer viewers than the guy who had people petitioning against him!
Not the right fit
So it wasn’t a pretty picture for Cooper, ratings-wise. But he was warmly received, nonetheless, and he raised $138,000 for his chosen charity. His experience as a newscaster undoubtedly helped him think on his feet as Jeopardy!
host, and he was smooth, funny, and comfortable dealing with contestants. Maybe viewers just needed some time to adjust to him... or perhaps not.
LeVar Burton has made something crystal clear when it comes to Jeopardy!: he wants to be the permanent host going forward. The Star Trek actor told The View that he believes he’s good enough.
And his guest-hosting stint may have been crucial in deciding whether he got the job.
Making more sense
Burton was certainly popular enough with fans to be in serious contention. More than 250,000 people signed a petition requesting that he get the job! He also picked up celebrity support from Stephen Colbert and Yvette Nicole Brown. We reckon Jeopardy!
and Burton are a great match, so we’ll be eagerly watching to see if he ever gets his wish.
As the first guest host of Jeopardy!, Ken Jennings somehow had to fill Trebek’s shoes — certainly not an easy task. He was a fitting choice by producers, though, as his legacy as a contestant is second to none.
Despite not being a true television personality, he made perfect sense to take over from Trebek. And he repaid the producers’ faith in him by delivering a comforting performance during the awkward transition.
Jennings even killed it in the ratings. His first week of shows got 10.3 million viewers, which was enough to make it the second most-watched week of the season. The first most-watched? Trebek’s final week, of course.
And after his time as host concluded, Jennings paid tribute to the fans and to Trebek in particular when he tweeted, “Thanks for watching” and “As always, thank you, Alex.”
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers wowed everyone with his guest host stint on Jeopardy!
And no one seemed to be a bigger fan than New York Post writer Andrea Peyser, who gushed, “He’s funny, self-effacing, whip-smart and ridiculously handsome, with a sense of comedic timing that should be the envy of every seasoned television professional out there.” Who’da thunk?
USA Today also noted the totally chill, friendly bro vibe Rodgers brought to his hosting duties, which was pretty on the money. His comfort level with hosting was pleasantly surprising, and he always seemed at ease.
It all led one Twitter user to hilariously write, “So it turns out Aaron Rodgers is a TV game show host who happens to be good at football.”
Sharing the stage
Rodgers’ presence led to a huge $236,000 being raised for charity. And it also let the professional athlete live out one of his personal dreams. He said during his first show, “As a lifelong fan of Jeopardy!, it is an incredible honor to guest host.”
He then fondly remembered Trebek, who he had shared the stage with during his winning run on Celebrity Jeopardy! A class act.
The Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik had all the right ingredients for excelling as a Jeopardy! host. On top of being a famous comedic actress with bundles of personality, she’s a neuroscientist with a Ph.D. from UCLA.
Her charisma and smarts are more than enough to place her at number one on our list.
A solid choice for 'Blossom'
And Bialik rocked it despite not being a big fan. She admitted to People magazine, “It wasn’t, like, a cultural cornerstone of my parents’ and my life growing up, but obviously I’ve watched it.” But in the end, she still seemed the best fit for the role. But what would Alex have wanted?
The former host was famously open about his intentions from day one, even when it came to the biggest news he could have ever dropped.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Trebeck decided to be so open with his followers, though. Back in March 2019, after all, the host shared the news about his cancer on YouTube. In a video released on the Jeopardy!
channel, he said, “Just like 50,000 other people in the U.S. each year, this week I was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer.”
Trebek continued, “Now, normally, the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I’m going to fight this.
And I’m going to keep working and with the love and support of my family and friends – and with the help of your prayers also – I plan to beat the low survival rate statistics for this disease.” For reference, the American Cancer Society states that only around 9 percent of those with pancreatic cancer live for five years.
Keeping It Light
However, Trebek had clearly not lost his sense of humor. He continued, “Truth told, I have to [keep working] because under the terms of my contract, I have to host Jeopardy!
for three more years. So help me. Keep the faith, and we’ll win. We’ll get it done.”
Making An Exit Plan
And it turned out that Trebek already knew how he planned to bow out of Jeopardy!. In early 2020, you see, he shared what he had in mind for his last day on the show.
The presenter was close-mouthed about when that day would come, of course, but he did know exactly how he pictured it happening.
Indeed, Trebek led a long and exciting life since being born in 1940 in Ontario, Canada. His first taste of the world of work came in his teens as a bellhop. Yet his dream was always to work as a newscaster.
And in due course, Trebek did exactly that – reading the news for the Canadian broadcaster CBC and later hosting game shows.
Becoming A Host
Then, in his 30s, Trebek shifted to the United States, where he hosted The Wizard of Odds for NBC. He became a familiar face with guest roles and hosting gigs on various other shows, too.
But his big moment arrived in 1984 when Jeopardy! began its revival. At the time, the original presenter, Art Fleming, knocked back the new hosting role.
The Road To Jeopardy!
Media bigshot Merv Griffin created Jeopardy! in the 1960s. In the show, contestants are given the answers to unseen questions – that they then must provide. The original series ran in various forms through the 1960s and ’70s.
Then, in 1984, Jeopardy! was rebooted as a daily syndicated show on NBC with Trebek at the helm.
And Jeopardy! has been a roaring success ever since. Its 8,000-plus episodes have earned 33 Daytime Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award, for instance. The show is also rated as one of American TV’s finest programs.
Trebek has been there throughout it all, too. In fact, many millions of Americans have watched the host over several decades of programming.
So it’s no surprise that the news of Trebek’s cancer shocked and saddened his many fans.
This was especially true because the form of the disease that Trebek had was so consistently terminal. For those who don’t know, pancreatic cancer occurs predominately among those aged over 60.
The pancreas is a small organ that lies in the back of the stomach. It is a lot wider at one end than it is at the other and looks a bit like a fish.
An adult’s pancreas is also roughly six inches long but no more than a couple of inches wide. And most cancers of the pancreas begin after the exocrine cells of the organ begin expanding unchecked.
What are exocrine cells? Well, these cells make up most of the pancreas. The glands that they form secrete enzymes into ducts. These then carry the enzymes into the intestines, where they play a part in digestion – particularly of fats.
The ducts are where pancreatic cancer starts in nearly all cases, too. It comes in the form of a tumor called an adenocarcinoma.
As for Trebek, his treatment initially seemed to be going well. In May 2019, for instance, he told People magazine that he was “near remission.” He said, “It’s kind of mind-boggling.
The doctors said they hadn’t seen this kind of positive result in their memory… some of the tumors have already shrunk by more than 50 percent.”
Yes, it appeared as if the host had turned a corner. In September 2019 Trebek told Good Morning America that, after the first round of chemo, he had been “doing so well.”
And he said his medical reports had almost returned to ordinary levels. Trebek had even gone back to work – but the news did not remain positive.
Second Round Of Chemo
Trebek revealed to Good Morning America that he had been finding work physically and mentally grueling. He’d also started losing weight. He said, “I lost about 12 pounds in a week.
And my numbers went sky high, much higher than they were when I was first diagnosed. So, the doctors have decided that I have to undergo chemo again, and that’s what I’m doing.”
Trebek continued, “Early on, I was down on myself. I didn’t realize how fallible each of us is in his or her own way. I talk to the audience sometimes, and I get teary-eyed for no reason.
I don’t even bother to explain it anymore. I just experience it. I know it’s a part of who I am, and I just keep going.”
Accepting Of Death
Despite the seriousness of the condition, though, Trebek had tried to remain strong. He told Good Morning America, “The thought of passing on doesn’t frighten me. Other things do.
The effect it will have on my loved ones – yes, that bothers me. It makes me sad. But the thought of myself moving on? Hey, folks, it comes with the territory.”
In October of that year, Trebek’s mind did turn to the possibility that his time on Jeopardy! might be limited. He told Canadian broadcaster CTV that the chemo had resulted in sores in his mouth, and this had made it more difficult to speak.
He said, “I will keep doing [the show] as long as my skills do not diminish, and they have started to diminish.”
Taking On Others' Pain
Trebek also told CTV that he was sorry that he’d been so open about his cancer battle. He said this had brought lots of folks to see him as a beacon in their own experiences.
But that had been hard for him because, as he told his interviewer, he doubted that he could bear “so much of others’ pain.”
Of course, there was an upside to speaking with lots of fans. Trebek talked to ABC News in January 2020 about how much his experience with cancer had meant to people.
He said, “Because of that, and something else that is operating here, people all over America and abroad have decided they want to let me know now, while I’m alive, about the impact that I’ve been having on their existence.”
Yet it was dealing with the negative experiences of others that had taken a toll on the host. Trebek told Good Morning America in October 2019, “I don’t know if I’m strong enough or intelligent enough to help alleviate some of that despair, so it’s tough on me.”
But even if he did feel that it was too much to expect him to be strong for others and himself, Trebek continued to display great strength in public.
A Long, Full Life
The host said, “The thought of the pancreatic cancer does not frighten me.” And when he considered the consequences, Trebek remained philosophical. He said, “I’m 79 years old.
So, hey, I’ve lived a good life, a full life, and I’m nearing the end of that life. I know that.”
Bouts Of Depression
Trebek also talked to ABC News in December 2019 about how the diagnosis had impacted his mental wellbeing. He said, “My oncologist told me one of the symptoms, if you will, of pancreatic cancer is that you get these moments of depression.”
However, the host explained that he was dealing with these bouts in his own way. He said, “I don’t mind getting choked up.”
Yet Trebek’s outlook on life and death had changed, as he explained. The host said, “I have learned something in the past year, and it’s this: we don’t know when we’re going to die.
Because of the cancer diagnosis, it’s no longer an open-ended life. It’s a closed-ended life because of the... survival rates of pancreatic cancer.”
A Burden For Jean
And while Trebek found that he could cope with the fear, he recognized that it created a burden for his wife, Jean.
He said, “It’s always tough for caretakers because she has to deal with her worrying about my well-being and also dealing with… I’m not always the most pleasant person to be around when I’m experiencing severe pain or depression, and she has to tread lightly around me.”
Then in March 2020 Trebek reached the milestone of a year since he’d been diagnosed. And he decided that it was a good time to bring his fans up to date with his condition, so he released a video on Twitter.
The host opened the clip by pointing out that only 18 percent of those with pancreatic cancer were expected to survive for a year, and he had done that.
Trebek proceeded to set out what that year had been like. He said, “Now, I’d be lying if I said the journey had been an easy one.
There were some good days but a lot of not-so-good days. I joked with friends that the cancer won’t kill me, the chemo treatments will.”
And then Trebek described a truly hard year. He said, “There were moments of great pain.
Moments when certain bodily functions no longer functioned and some massive attacks of great depression that made me wonder if it was really worth fighting on.”
A Betrayal To Jean
Talking about the depression, Trebek noted that throughout his experience with cancer he’d always had someone else to think about.
He said, “I brushed [the sadness] aside very quickly, because that would have been a massive betrayal – a betrayal of my wife and soulmate, Jean, who has given her all to help me survive.”
Trebek also acknowledged that his life had meaning to others beyond Jean. He said, “It would have been a betrayal of other cancer patients who have looked to me as an inspiration and a cheerleader of sorts of the value of living and hope.
And it certainly would have been a betrayal of my faith in God and the millions of prayers that have been said on my behalf.”
Looking To Year Two
A man renowned for his sense of humor and quick wit could not be expected to get through such a serious talk without a smile, though. He went on, “You know my oncologist tried to cheer me up the other day...
He was certain that one year from now, the two of us would be sitting in his office celebrating my second anniversary of survival.”
One Day At A Time
The host then wrapped up his update with a bit of positivity.
He said, “And you know something, if I, no, if we – because so many of us are involved in this same situation – if we take it just one day at a time with a positive attitude, anything is possible. I’ll keep you posted.”
Trebek had also given an interview to WPXI in February 2020 where he’d had some upbeat things to say about sharing his story.
The game show host explained, “All of the cards and letters I’ve received [and those] giving me advice and offering prayers for me has really touched me.”
The TV host continued, “Some people would say, ‘That’s a bad deal that [Trebek] has got.’ But there are a lot of people out there who have been informed that they have cancer, they have heart problems, serious other diseases, they have Parkinson’s, whatever, you name it.”
Feeling The Love
Trebek went on, “But they don’t have that great outpouring of warmth and prayerful thoughts coming from people all over America. That’s been a great help to me.
I had no idea that our show and myself had such an impact on the lives of so many people out there.”
But it wasn’t just messages in the mail that had blown Trebek away. Back in November 2019, he was left in tears when Jeopardy!
contestant Dhruv Gaur used his final answer on the show to express his feelings about Trebek. Ingeniously, instead of a “proper” answer, Gaur wrote, “We [love] you, Alex!”
Realizing His Time
Trebek talked about the end of his time on Jeopardy!, too. He had foreshadowed this back in October 2019 when he mentioned his slurred speech. But in March 2020 Trebek said that the time when he would call it a day was approaching fast.
And although he didn’t know when it would be, he did have a clear idea of how he wanted to bow out.
Just 30 Seconds
The game show superstar did not have anything big or astonishing planned for his finale, though.
Trebek told ABC News, “I’ve kind of, in my mind, rehearsed it already, and what I would do on that day is tell the director, ‘Time the show down to leave me 30 seconds at the end. That’s all I want.’”
Giving His Farewell
Ever the pro, Trebek continued, “Don’t ask me who’s going to replace me because I have no say whatsoever.
But I’m sure that if you give them the same love and attention and respect that you have shown me… then they will be a success and the show will continue being a success. And until we meet again, God bless you and goodbye.”
Taking His Leave
It was a tough journey for Trebek, but he continued on until November 2020 when he sadly lost his battle with cancer. A statement from the show’s spokesperson read, “Jeopardy! is saddened to share that Alex Trebek passed away peacefully at home early this morning, surrounded by family and friends. Thank you, Alex.”
Throughout his treatment, the host shared positive thoughts and words for those facing their own health struggles, and his legacy will undoubtedly continue.