During my junior year, I usually sat at the dining room table and watched Jeopardy with my dad. I would shout out the answers, whether they were right or wrong, while my father chuckled at the wrong answers and kept score of the money that I would have lost had I been a real contestant in the game. My father and I had been following this routine since we started watching Jeopardy several years ago. His deep love of game shows, and my interest in the odd way the questions were structured, captivated our interest for years. But one person who always made the experience even better was Alex Trebek. With the frequent change of contestant faces, Mr. Trebek was a constant on the show. His gentlemanly presence and knowledgeable nature showed that he did the job with a certain grace that men and women alike should aspire to.
Mr. Trebek’s charm could not only be found in his perfect reading of the questions and gentle reprimand at incorrect answers but also in the way he interviewed contestants. Part of Mr. Trebek’s career was meeting incredible people from around the world. He has met engineers, doctors, lawyers, and the occasional celebrity. But, he never failed to treat them the same as those who had less luxurious careers like being a bartender, as in the case of Austin Rogers, or a gambler, in the case of James Holzhauer. He treated everyone with the same equality and respect that would affect how I aimed to treat people in the future.
Further, when Mr. Trebek conducted interviews, he always expressed interest in what the contestants had to say while sometimes adding an anecdote of his own. He was witty, and his professional tone never died out even as he said some of his comments in jest. For me, watching Jeopardy quickly became a nightly tradition, and so did watching Mr. Trebek. His talent and endearing nature always made watching him enjoyable.
Mr. Trebek’s poise and avuncular demeanor made him not only a part of Jeopardy but a part of the family. My attachment to Mr. Trebek grew exponentially over the years. I viewed him as a grandfather, so one could not imagine my shock at his recent passing. Unfortunately, on November 8, 2020, Mr. Trebek passed away from pancreatic cancer. He spent his last moments as he wanted: surrounded by his wife and children. Mr. Trebek’s death was a deeply disheartening moment in a year of so much turmoil. Many around the world sent an outpour of love at a legend’s passing. Past Jeopardy contestants recounted memories of their time with him, and many of his audience recounted the times they and their parents sat and watched Jeopardy together. Former Jeopardy contestant Ken Jennings wrote, “Alex was not just the best person ever at what he did. He was also a lovely and deeply decent man, and I’m grateful for every minute I got to spend with him.”
Some of the most common stories came from immigrant families who were viewers of the show and used the show as a tool to acquire knowledge and learn English. In the last episode to premiere before Mr. Trebek’s passing, contestant Burt Thakur said, “I learned English because of you. I used to always sit on [my grandfather’s] lap and watch you every day. So, this is a pretty special moment for me. Thank you very much.”
Thakur’s experience sums up what it is like for many immigrant families who watched the show. His “thank you” was our “thank you” and his tears, mine as well.
However, this loss was not only mine, but it was one of others in our local community.
One of Fort Lauderdale High School’s Jeopardy enthusiasts includes Ms. Shannon Patron, who had once auditioned for the show as a teenager.
“I auditioned for Teen Jeopardy when I was about 15 or 16. You start by taking an online test and then if you score well on that, they invite you to your nearest audition location. So I flew out to New Orleans with my mother and I auditioned for a spot on the show,” Ms. Patron explained. “I unfortunately didn’t make it to the third round, which I think would have been the show, but it was such a fun experience and I got some free Jeopardy merch!”
With such a close connection with Jeopardy, Mr. Trebek’s passing was devastating for Ms. Patron.
“This may sound dramatic, but I stopped dead in my tracks and started crying when I got the news of his passing. It was very sudden, although we knew he was struggling with cancer and had taken time off the show before,” Ms. Patron shared. “It felt like I had lost a grandfather figure personally, someone who was at my dinner table every evening along with the rest of the family.”
Another of Fort Lauderdale High School faculty’s Jeopardy fans is none other than Coach Portice.
“I became interested in Jeopardy as a result of reading trivia books when I was young. I watched Jeopardy during the 60s and early 70s. It was then off the air for about 10 years and came back with Alex Trebek as the host. The effect of Mr. Trebek’s passing is iconic,” Coach Portice expressed. “Much like the passing of an actor who has played a character for many years or a long time sports announcer with a specific team , there is a feeling of emptiness and loss. Mr. Trebek will now become a nostalgic figure for those of us that enjoyed Jeopardy. I send out a “Jeopardy answer” to my children almost every night, and they compete to come up with the right question.”
These sentiments of loss are not only found in the faculty, but also in the students who watched Jeopardy themselves.
“I’ve watched Jeopardy my whole life because my dad puts it on, every night. He’s watched the nightly version ever since it started in 1984. Mr. Trebek’s passing was something I had anticipated. He had stage IV pancreatic cancer, and had survived significantly longer than most people with that diagnosis do, as he himself pointed out,” Benjamin Schnirman (11) explained. “But to think it would come so suddenly is quite saddening. I often hear about celebrities passing away, and think of how unfortunate it is; but rarely does it affect my life so drastically. It’s really the first time.”
As we all look back on a wonderful legacy, there is only one final clue on the board.
He is the host of Jeopardy, who in his 36 years on the show has become a friend, grandfather, and teacher to all. His legacy will continue for years to come and will always be remembered.
The answer: Who is Alex Trebek?