Debuting as the host of “Jeopardy!” in 1984, Alex Trebek cultivated a personal connection with his audience as he brought entertainment, charisma, grace and knowledge to millions of viewers’ homes. The 80-year-old game show host was resilient, comedic and an inspiration for so many.
Tony Vinciquerra, chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, encapsulated how special Trebek was with the following quotation: “For 37 amazing years, Alex was that comforting voice, that moment of escape and entertainment at the end of a long, hard day for millions of people around the world. He was the heart and soul of ‘Jeopardy!’ and he will be deeply missed by everyone who made him part of their lives.”
It’s no surprise, then, that when Trebek revealed in March 2019 that he had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, the world was shaken to the core; and when he passed away on Nov. 8, the world grieved at the loss of a legendary, revolutionary, honorable man.
Trebek did not let his illness stop him from continuing his passion until the very end. As he told T.J. Holmes in an interview for “Good Morning America.” “This is not me. And as long as I’m on chemotherapy, this will always be here when I’m in public,” said Trebek. “And that’s fine. If I were no longer hosting the program, I would not be wearing the hairpiece.” Trebek lived and breathed “Jeopardy!” and his passion for the game show and its contestants showed through his entire life, until the very end.
Hairpiece jokes aside, Trebek said in the interview that he had a lot of time on his hands during quarantine, but he put it to great use by writing a memoir, “The Answer is…: Reflections on My Life.” This wise and charming book combines personal anecdotes with Trebek’s ample thoughts on a broad range of topics, including parenthood, success, spirituality, philanthropy, education and even marriage. Furthermore, Trebek adds a “Jeopardy!” twist, answering questions that his fans always wondered, like why he shaved his signature mustache and what he thought about the legendary “Jeopardy!” champions Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer, to name a few. Trebek also honors “Jeopardy!” in his memoir by titling each chapter in the form of a question. This memoir is only further evidence for why Trebek’s title as one of the most respected and beloved figures in entertainment rings true.
With the passing of Trebek, many have wondered what the future of the game show will entail. Executive producer Mike Richards answered this difficult question with grace by following Trebek’s wishes; Richards said, “Alex believed in the importance of ‘Jeopardy!’ and always said that he wanted the show to go on after him. We will honor his legacy by continuing to produce the show he loved.”
On Nov. 30, something unprecedented happened; the show did go on. Ken Jennings, who holds the longest “Jeopardy!” winning streak with an impressive 74 consecutive wins, debuted as the first interim host on the show since Trebek’s passing.
Jennings is a “Jeopardy!” legend that fans everywhere recall fondly. The show’s choice to bring him on as the first interim host, then, was strategic and honorary. Jennings’ success was uncanny, as he beat 148 contestants consecutively, until his eventual defeat, when he took on Watson, an IBM supercomputer. In this episode, the fateful question was answered; in a competition of man versus machine, machine won.
Jennings took the torch as interim host with grace and dignity, honoring Trebek with the following Tweet: “There will only ever be one Alex Trebek, but I’m honored to be helping ‘Jeopardy!’ out with this in January.” This tweet only affirms the notion that Trebek is irreplaceable — even the show’s most acclaimed winner will never be able to fill Trebek’s shoes. In an interview with Deseret News earlier this year, Jennings also noted how being the show’s host is “absolutely a dream job,” but he “can’t even think about anybody but [Trebek] hosting the show. He’s a hero to America’s nerds. I’m not emotionally prepared for turning on the TV and seeing anybody who’s not Alex Trebek — whether it’s me or not — hosting ‘Jeopardy!’ I’m just not ready to consider that yet.”
Who did Trebek want to replace him as the host of “Jeopardy!”? Trebek told author Claire McNear in an interview for her new book “Answers in the Form of Questions” that he would like to see a woman or person of color succeed him. McNear notes how “he did say to me that he was keenly aware that the vast majority of hosts were white men, and it would be wonderful if the next host of ‘Jeopardy!’ did not look like him.” Trebek also jokingly told ABC News in July that Betty White, his longtime friend, should fill his shoes as the show’s host, because the audience wants “somebody younger, somebody funnier.”
A permanent replacement host for Trebek has yet to be named, although there is already a list of possible contenders. The top seven contenders, according to Deseret News, are Ken Jennings, LeVar Burton, George Stephanopoulos, Alex Faust, Laura Coates, Anderson Cooper and Tom Bergeron.
Regardless of who ends up permanently replacing Trebek after the current rotation of interim hosts, it’s clear that nobody will ever live up to the high bar that Trebek has set. With his devotion and everlasting position as the host of “Jeopardy!” for 37 years, Trebek earned his rightful spot in the Guinness World Records for most game show episodes hosted by the same presenter.
This notable record will live on, forever honoring the man that we will always associate with the beloved, educational game show. With Trebek’s devotion to his craft, his humor, his grace, his kindness and his resilience, it’s clear that Trebek has served the world well. “Jeopardy!” will never be the same without the icon, but the show will go on in his honor and memory.