Most college professors could stand to take a few lessons from Alex Trebek.
The renowned host of the TV trivia show “Jeopardy!”, who passed away on Nov. 8, delivered entertainment and education all at once—for over 8,000 episodes. Trebek only missed once: in 1997, Trebek and “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak switched shows as an April Fool’s joke.
In thirty-seven seasons, “Jeopardy!” has become America’s favorite elective course. There’s no required reading, but it’s impossible to know too much.
Trebek took his role leading class seriously, ensuring that each episode followed the established pattern and never lingering too long over the contestant’s personal stories. But despite the business-like air, Trebek managed to insert moments of witty humor into the encyclopedic show.
He offered conciliatory winces whenever a contestant suffered a particularly brutal Daily Double loss and celebrated victories alongside contestants. Trebek’s host personality—his voice inflections when reading clues and good-natured quips when a response really misses the mark—have contributed to the game show’s enduring legacy and universal appeal.
I began watching “Jeopardy!” faithfully when I was in high school. During lunch period, five or so of my friends and I would sit in my history teacher’s classroom and pull up the previous night’s episode. Students against teacher, we’d play without buzzers, shouting over one another to get the answer out first.
We took our game incredibly seriously. Watching the episode ahead of time was prohibited on grounds of expulsion, and the prize for winning was a sticker. I was the designated sticker-keeper for the student team; after each game I’d dutifully take out my notebook and pay up, or add another token of victory to an ever-growing collection.
For my first year at Capital, my roommate and I didn’t have a TV in our dorm room. Instead, I’d head to the Mezz Fitness Center on weekdays at 7:00 PM—the wide-screen television in front of the exercise bikes was perfect for catching up with my favorite game show.
Often, watching “Jeopardy!” leaves viewers feeling woefully inept (or maybe that’s just me). But I enjoy even episodes when the categories are not in my wheelhouse, because Alex Trebek always managed to make a lack of knowledge feel more like a possibility than a failing.
The loss of Trebek is felt, deeply, by me and by a country who has enjoyed learning along with him for decades.
In the month preceding his death, Trebek filmed several new episodes of “Jeopardy!”. For the next few weeks, the show will air, as always, at 7:00PM on weekdays on CBS (channel 8-2, for all users of Capital’s cable).
Trebek’s final episode as host is scheduled for Christmas Day—a fitting gift for lovers of trivia everywhere.