Perhaps I am a little behind the curve, but on the other hand you can never be too late on something like this. Alex Trebek died a little over a week ago after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 80. He had a long, successful life. And yet, his loss stung to many. Trebek was an icon. He’s a television legend. In the world of game shows, perhaps nobody is more beloved. As a game show fan, I know Trebek’s work quite well, and I wanted to write a few words about him, belated as they may be.
Trebek is, of course, best known as the host of Jeopardy! from 1984 through this year. That’s truly remarkable. It’s kind of incredible that Jeopardy! has been on that long, and more amazing that Trebek was the host the entire time. To be fair, Jeopardy! began as a gig, a reboot of a game show that may have not had legs, and Trebek was just a charming Canadian with some hosting chops on his resume. He hosted Double Dare (not that one), Pitfall, and High Rollers. In the early days of hosting Jeopardy! he also hosted the reboot of Classic Concentration. Buzzr was running a tribute to Trebek over the weekend, and since they don’t have the rights to Jeopardy!, those were the shows they had to go with.
None of those game shows are good. Classic Concentration kind of sucks, to be honest. None of it is Trebek’s fault. He was an excellent host, even then. Jeopardy!, though, was a much better show, and it gave Trebek a persona. Many consider Jeopardy! the brainy game show. It’s the one that doesn’t care about contestants having a “game show personality.” It’s the one that’s just answering trivia questions. Trebek, who read all the questions, took on a scholarly air. Sure, he had the answers, and we knew that intuitively, but it was part of the presentation. Plus, as time went on, and he understood the game more, he did become smarter, shrewder. I bet Trebek was a smart dude with a lot of trivia in his head. Jeopardy! has aired five nights a week in syndication for decades, and Trebek has been there for all of it. Few people have been on TV more.
Jeopardy! is possibly my favorite game show ever, give or take Match Game depending on the day and how I’m feeling. It’s definitely the game show I most want to be on, as a lifelong fan of trivia games. I have had the opportunity to audition for Jeopardy! three times, and I take the online test every year. Alas, I have not gotten on the show yet. I still hope to do so someday. Of course, if I do, Trebek won’t be there. That does suck. I consider him essentially tied as my favorite game show host ever with Gene Rayburn, the man at the helm of the ‘70s version of Match Game. They do very different things, as they are almost the yin and yang of game show hosting. I can’t imagine Trebek floating above the chaos on Match Game in the ‘70s, and I can’t imagine Rayburn being the serious purveyor of knowledge on Jeopardy!.
Alex Trebek will forever be a legend. Other than maybe Bob Barker, he’s the first name you think of when you think of game shows. Trebek knew exactly how to emcee a show like Jeopardy!. He was always fun when he showed on in cameos as himself on shows like Cheers and The Simpsons. We got over 40 years of him as a game show host. We can want more, but we can’t really ask for more than that. Jeopardy! will never feel the same. Trebek will always loom over the show, and loom over culture in general.