One night in March of my junior year of high school, my friends and I skipped out on going to our school’s annual charity dance (also known as our school’s annual mini rave/make-out-fest) and instead decided to stay in, order a pizza, and watch some television. Upon arriving at my friend Allison’s house, we quickly turned on the one show the three of us loved to pieces- Jeopardy.
As someone who has a huge fear of missing out, I really thought I would regret not going to the school event. However, I had so much genuine fun watching hours upon hours of Jeopardy with my friends that I didn’t even think about missing out on the school event until I saw pictures of it the next day, and even then, I didn’t regret staying in one bit. We probably watched at least 10 episodes, and we experienced all the highs and lows that Jeopardy brings players and viewers, from the frustrating feeling you get when you know the answer but just can’t remember its name, to the amazing feeling when you realize your suffering in 10th grade chemistry was worth it when you get a question about hydrogen bonding correct somehow. It was the definition of a wholesome night, and the three of us nerds bonded over our mutual love for three things: learning, winning, and Alex Trebek.
These Jeopardy nights became a regular occurrence for us. Allison would tape a bunch of episodes on her DVR, and we would get together to binge watch them. Our brains were so tired from learning in the classroom, but somehow learning became fun again in this kind of setting.
A year later, I was on Facetime with Allison after school one day. I’m not sure what she and I were talking about, but knowing us, we were probably venting to each other about how stressed we were for an upcoming test or assignment. All of a sudden, she got silent. A solid five seconds later, she read me a headline that popped up on her Facebook feed. Alex Trebek was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer.
I think I was in shock for a solid hour after she told me the news. Don’t get me wrong, I never thought Alex Trebek would live forever, but I certainly didn’t see him slowing down anytime soon. All of a sudden, this invincible force of a human became just another one of us regular people who have an unknown but unavoidable expiration date.
I was a complete mess that night. I couldn’t believe that I was ungrateful enough to be complaining about homework when this man was telling us the news that he was essentially dying. My life was put into perspective so quickly, and I told myself I would live fully and be significantly more grateful after that day. Now let’s be real, that inspired sentiment lasted for a solid few days before the angst of teenagehood set back in. Still, anytime I think about that night, I feel a wave of that inspiration hit me again.
Since finding out the news, I was very apprehensive to watch the show again. I was afraid to see Alex wither away, but as I’ve learned from watching a few clips from recent episodes, he is doing anything but withering. I can’t imagine the amount of pain that this man is experiencing, but on camera, he doesn’t show it. He puts the show and its contestants first, and he looks strong and peaceful doing so. He looks like the same healthy Alex Trebek that I saw on my tv screen before the diagnosis, and while I know he isn’t at all feeling the same physically, I don’t think his passion for his job has changed one bit. I knew from the second I heard his diagnosis that he wouldn’t give up the show unless he absolutely had to, and he has not surprised me at all in this sense so far. I hope to have a job I love as tenderly one day.
Though Alex Trebek’s eventual leaving Jeopardy doesn’t mean that the show itself will end, it does mean that the show, as I know and love it, will be over. Alex Trebek has inspired such a strong love in learning in viewers, for unlike other game show hosts, he exhibits a true adoration for the content he presents. He has created an atmosphere in which contestants and viewers are motivated to acquire more and more knowledge, a motivation that will only better these individuals’ lives. To be the best contestant, you have to have a solid knowledge about a diverse amount of topics, and though any host could present the same writer-created questions, I don’t know any other host who could present it with such a strong appreciation for knowledge. There were so many occasions in which I’ve wondered if Alex was just reading the answer the writers wrote, or if he somehow magically knew all the answers himself, for he seemed passionate about every question category, from British history to Broadway.
Some of my favorite childhood memories and pivotal adulthood moments could be attributed to this show and its loyal host. I remember so clearly when they had the IBM computer, Watson, play against legends Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Before the game commenced, Alex took viewers on a tour of both the little and big version of Watson, and his curiosity about the computer and his eagerness to see how the game would play out was so exciting. I was only 10 years old, but this tournament blew my mind in so many ways, and I remember thinking that the only person who was more captivated by it than I had been was Trebek. As I got older, Jeopardy became my way of proving to my parents that I was, in fact, a genius when I got the answers right a solid quarter of the time. Years later, I was at a college interview, and the interviewer mentioned that he and his roommates love binge watching Jeopardy together. After he mentioned this, we spent a good chunk of time talking about our favorite moments from the show, and it was the only point in the interview where I lost track of time and forgot about my nerves. This show has a way of bringing people together.
I’ve watched a few of Trebek’s recent interviews, and his perspective on life and his current situation moves me immensely. He mentioned that he doesn’t see himself as courageous just because he is fighting the cancer battle. He said that it’s just a part of life, and he would have to deal with this diagnosis whether he was courageous or not, but that he supposes the way he tries to stay positive could be seen as an act of courage. He slipped in a smile and a “way to go, Alex” at the end of that explanation, and seeing the positivity in his eyes gave me, and I’m sure a lot of other viewers, a tiny glimmer of peace. It’s so important that he isn’t shying away from talking about how hard the battle has been, for sugarcoating struggles isn’t in his genuine nature, but staying positive and grateful is. He still jokes around with his wife in interviews but is careful to commend her for the kindness she shows him as his biggest caretaker. He spent a few moments on an episode of Jeopardy talking about early symptoms of pancreatic cancer, and he was shown getting teary-eyed upon learning that this warning helped encourage some fans go in for a screening and catch the disease in its early, treatable stages. Alex Trebek is truly making lemons out of lemonade here. He is taking an incredibly shitty situation and using it to do good and save other lives, and for that he has become one of my greatest inspirations. The Google Year in Search presented him as one of the superheroes of this year, and that title is an understatement for the impact he has had on so many lives, before and after his diagnosis. He has done everything from brightening viewers’ days with his humor, to acting as an advocate for early cancer detection, to donating a significant amount of land to a Califronia conservancy as a part of his immense philanthropic efforts. It’s not my or anyone else’s place to determine whether or not he has lived a full life, but objectively, Alex Trebek has impacted more lives than possible to count. If the purpose of life is to better other lives, Trebek has truly outdone himself.
If this post somehow lands on your computer screen, Mr. Trebek, I just wanted to say a big thank you. All of America is rooting for you. Like that one man wrote on his Final Jeopardy answer, we love you, Alex. Thank you for dedicating so many years and so much energy to this show and to bettering the world. You are so appreciated, and I think I speak for viewers everywhere when I say you are constantly in our thoughts and prayers. We know you still have a hell of a lot of fight left in you, and we are behind you and your family every step of the way.
To anyone else whose screen this post pops up on, I hope you find someone who encourages you to learn the way Trebek has encouraged me and many others to. We can’t be experts on everything, but there’s a world of knowledge out there for us to delve into, and we owe it to ourselves to take in as much of it as possible since it’s right at our fingertips most of the time. Trebek once said, “My life has been a quest for knowledge and understanding, and I am nowhere near having achieved that. And it doesn’t bother me in the least. I will die without having come up with the answers to many things in life.” We can’t learn everything, but we can learn a whole damn lot. And when we make our lives centered on a motivation to learn more and more, we become better, more empathetic and aware people and contributors to this crazy, opinionated, and often ignorant world. So whether it’s turning on your tv at 7 o’clock every night and taking in information from a Jeopardy category, reading the daily news from a variety of sources, or simply meeting new people and hearing their stories, I hope you choose to learn. It’s not my place to say so, but I think that’s the kind of world Trebek wants to be proud to call his own.