After a 36 year long career, Trebek’s final words are but a simple farewell.
It was one of those big box TVs — a wooden Sony Trinitron, with the solid oak finish, and the dusty undercarriage that grandma never bothered sweeping with her walis — that we’d been watching on. The year was 1991. On the tube, in white, are the opening titles for Jeopardy. Where an older man with a friendly mustache, not unlike my own father’s, stood in front of a camera and quizzed contestants about different pieces of trivia asking them to answer in the form of a question. My parents, like the parents of most millennials now in their 30’s, had just arrived home after a two-hour commute to the city. Dinner was finished. Everyone was exhausted. And together, if but only for 30 minutes until bathtime and then bedtime, we are a family. Gathered to watch Trebeck ask questions to strangers on TV…
I didn’t understand what was going on at the time. I was three. But I did know that my family really liked this show. My parents thought that by watching it, my older sister and I would somehow become smarter. When I was older I realized I was not the only one to experience this. I’d actually learned about several families who had similar experiences. In school, teachers began quizzing us in the game show’s point-based format; with quiz-based games on biology, history, or really anything educational that they deemed test-worthy. A semi-lame way to make education fun thanks to that dusty old man with the glasses on TV and his enthusiasm for trivia.
Trebek wasn’t as kind as a Mr. Rodgers. Nor was he as charismatic as a Bob Barker. Nevertheless, he was something consistent throughout my entire 32 years of living. A person who’d I’d accidentally learn from via his show over the years and sort of grown-up watching unintentionally into my adulthood. Because Jeopardy was on when we were uncertain about our future post 9/11 and the subsequent wars that followed. It was there during the internet boom of the 2000s. It was there to feature some of the first in state of the art artificial intelligence — IBM Watson — and of course, had their tournaments of champions. Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer.
Jeopardy was a show I found myself suddenly getting better at through the years. I was able to self-measure myself getting semi-smarter over time, the more questions I could answer as I’d grown older. It was the show I’d put on when visiting a loved one in the hospital. A show that I watched with my patients at the mental health clinic I had worked at for seven years, a routine which unsurprisingly, I had discovered many of they had grown up with as well. Jeopardy was like sports for nerds with intellectual interests. It was one of the few things I could easily bond with my dad.
Alex Trebek and Jeopardy have a special place in my heart as it does for many Americans. It is now 9 pm. I have just watched the final episode of Jeopardy. Watched the final statement last Monday of Alex delivering a message of kindness during Thanksgiving and the pandemic; unaware that at age 80, he would pass from Stage 4 pancreatic cancer — something he’d been battling for over a year — just ten days later.
Today, we saw his final show air. A bittersweet farewell to a man who valued people, family, and intelligence. I saddened by this loss. Not just of a brilliant man who’d always been there throughout my 30+ years of living, but also one of the last anchors of the life I’d known before. At a time where tumultuous uncertainty is rampant just about everywhere, and a little routine like my regular daily television quiz TV show — was nice.
Alex’s final tribute is a highlight of his career. A person who loved what he did and got to spend many years relishing in that passion. Never acknowledging the last times were here. He couldn’t. Trebek was too caught up in the fun of the moment. Never questioning that not only would he beat this thing, but he’d continue on forever-and-ever.
Thank you, Alex Trebek, for years of entertainment. For being an anchor during the worst and most uncertain times. We will miss you tremendously.