RIP Alex Trebek: How he changed game shows forever with ‘Jeopardy’
There are very few things in this life guaranteed. The only things we are guaranteed in life are death, taxes, and Jeopardy on American TV stations sometime after seven PM. Since 1984, families have enjoyed host Alex Trebek hosting Jeopardy every weekday with a new syndicated episode of trivia.
However, Trebek was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in 2019, the same cancer that took previous Jeopardy host Art Fleming’s life in 1995. Still filming Jeopardy during treatment, Alex Trebek succumbed to the disease on November 8th, 2020. Sony Pictures Television announced Trebek had filmed episodes through Christmas, so his last episode of Jeopardy will air on December 25th.
As America mourns the most well-known game show host of all time, Alex Trebek’s career as a host has come up time and time again. A comforting figure in primetime television, Alex Trebek’s influence with Jeopardy cannot be understated.
A host with experience
Long before he started asking random trivia on Jeopardy, Alex Trebek was a well-known host in the game show community. Starting with CBC’s Reach for the Top, Trebek has hosted nine different game shows before he got the job on the Jeopardy revival.
Famously, Trebek hosted The $128,000 Question, High Rollers, and Double Dare (not the Nickelodeon version). Though Trebek began his hosting career in the aftermath of the quiz show scandals, his hosting abilities are often attributed to the rise of the quiz show. Then, Columbia TriStar Television looked to revive the classic quiz show Jeopardy.
Becoming the master of learning
When Alex Trebek became the host of the Jeopardy revival in 1984, he had no clue of what the show would become. Even previous Jeopardy host Art Fleming didn’t understand why Jeopardy became a national sensation after the revival. Yet, Jeopardy quickly became “an American icon” according to the press, with Alex Trebek standing right next to the show as “a national treasure”.
Jeopardy has been ranked as one of the greatest game shows of all time by numerous publications, but that’s not important. What is important is when TV Guide called Jeopardy one of the best TV shows of all time. Not just game shows, but TV shows as a whole. Calling Jeopardy “habit-forming” and noting the show “always makes its viewers feel smarter”, TV Guide ranked Jeopardy forty-five out of sixty.
That’s no small feat, especially for a game show. While the entire Jeopardy production team play a role in the success of the show, Alex Trebek is the face of Jeopardy. His dry wit and humor brought the show to life, as he let the contestants be the giant nerds they were. The most memorable moments of Jeopardy are the ones where Trebek had a witty response to a contestant’s comment, or his more wholesome reaction to someone’s flub.
Even now, as tributes for the late game show host pour in, people are recognizing how Alex Trebek and Jeopardy let a whole generation of people feel smart without shame. From helping IBM develop their Watson AI, to recruiting astronauts for NASA, Alex Trebek knew his position was more than just for entertainment. He became a face for STEM careers, for nerds, and for people who just wanted to learn.
A legacy well earned
When Alex Trebek was asked about how he’d like his final episode of Jeopardy to go, he told the reporter he’d ask for thirty seconds at the end of the episode just to talk with America. He would offer his goodbyes to the lifelong Jeopardy fans, and of course, in classic Trebek style, he would call out the elephant in the room: his replacement.
“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 for the past 30-odd years, then they will be a success and the show will continue being a success.”
Even in death, Trebek remains a class act. The Jeopardy team has announced Alex Trebek prepared a statement before his death that will be shared on Monday’s episode, and his final episode as host will be airing on Christmas Day, December 25th.