When I heard the terribly sad news Wednesday that Alex Trebek was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I reflected a bit on what it was like to meet him last year.
It’s surreal to see someone I admire so much, standing on the same stage where only a few months before I competed on “Jeopardy!”, announcing devastating personal news.
One of the moments I anticipated the most when I was on the show was announcer Johnny Gilbert’s introduction of Trebek as he walks on to the set. If you’re a regular viewer, you know the lines . . .
“And now, here is the host of ‘Jeopardy!,’ Alex Trebek!”
“Thank you, Johnny; thank you, ladies and gentlemen . . . ”
Trebek is an icon for many reasons — his intellect, his sarcastic wit, and even, for a time, his mustache. He’s not above taking contestants down a peg, or gently ribbing people who miss what he thinks is an obvious response.
He’s simultaneously cooler than all of us and yet he doesn’t seem to think he’s better than anyone. I mean, the man has joked about his regular breakfast of Snickers and Diet Coke. What’s more relatable than that?
I didn’t know, going in to the experience, whether he’d be anything like his on-screen persona. I’m happy to confirm that he is exactly the type of kind, funny, and gracious host you would want.
I described him to others as — in a positive way — a weird dad, and I stand by that. He made some classic “dad jokes” in his chats with the audience and the contestants, and it was a particularly enjoyable part of the experience.
I don’t want to overstate my connection to him — the contestants don’t get to see him backstage, and though he was very nice, he’s also met thousands of contestants and there’s no reason to think any of us stood out to him in a meaningful way.
Someone in his position, though, could have been cold or rude, and he went out of his way to be friendly and welcoming. I appreciated that so much, and being on the show wouldn’t have been nearly as entertaining or memorable without him. I’m grateful for getting to meet him even for just a few minutes.
I’m rooting hard for Trebek’s complete recovery, and I know he’s got a lot of people in his corner — I’m not counting him out in the least.
It’s pretty hard to imagine the show without him — Trebek is “Jeopardy!”, and “Jeopardy!” is Trebek. Let’s hope we have many more seasons ahead of his wonderful presence on TV.