Alex Trebek with Westchester native Austin Rogers
Dinner and Jeopardy, A Murphy Tradition for Five Decades
By Dan Murphy
For all of us who have enjoyed Jeopardy for most of our lives, to watch the final episodes of the greatest quiz show of all time with the realization that the host, Alex Trebek, has passed on is surreal. Trebek, who died on Nov. 8 after a courageous battle with Pancreatic Cancer at the age of 80, worked up until the end of his life, and banked away shows so that all of us who loved him and the show, could watch for two more months after his death.
These last few episodes have become must watch TV for my daughter and I, and that has been the case for my family for five decades. I started watching Jeopardy in the 1980’s with my grandfather. Our enjoyment of the New York Times crossword, (we could only finish the Monday version, the easiest) also extended into Jeopardy, and weeknight evenings at our house consisted of dinner and Jeopardy.
My father wasn’t as passionate a fan but would sit and watch after dinner and enjoy. Now my daughter and I have watched the show for the past four years and have continued to watch Alex perservere through his illness, without comment or complaint.
Indeed, the show must go on, and Trebec never missed a taping of his 8,200+ episodes of Jeopardy. In 2014, Guinness announced that Trebek held the world record for most episodes of a game show hosted by the same presenter, at 6,829 episodes.The only episode that Trebek “missed” was an April fools joke in 1997, when Trebek hosted Wheel of Fortune, and Pat Sajak hosted Jeopardy.
Trebek understood that the game show is the star, and he mostly stayed out of the way, adding a touch of humor, or emphasis on an important answer, when needed. He had the greatest television timing of any host in history.
In her book, ‘Answers in the Form of a Question,’ Claire McNear wrote that Trebek, “has developed a seasoned sports announcer’s sense of when to stay out of the way of the action and let momentum build, and when to jump in and egg his players on.”
Ken Jennings, Jeopardy’s GOAT, tweeted “Alex Trebek is in a way the last Cronkite: authoritative, reassuring TV voice you hear every night, almost to the point of ritual.”
Trebek, who said, “I take my job very seriously. I don’t take myself too seriously.” left us with a Thanksgiving message: “You know, in spite of what America and the rest of the world is experiencing right now, there are many reasons to be thankful. There are more and more people extending helpful hands to show kindness to their neighbors, and that’s a good thing. Keep the faith. We’re going to get through all of this, and we will be a better society because of it.”
Trebek also understood that it was the many Jeopardy champions who, if they were able to win multiple games, became the star of the show for a few weeks or a month.
My favorite Jeopardy champion was Austin Rogers, who had a 14-game Jeopardy winning streak in 2017. Rogers, who was raised in Westchester, had an impulsive humor and positive attitude that helped him become an Internet sensation. And Trebek realized that Rogers was great for the show and that the fans loved it, so he let Austin be Austin, even if he was a bid out of the ordinary for a Jeopardy champ.
But Jennings, was clearly the greatest Jeopardy champ, with an unheard of 74 Jeopardy wins in a row. He lost only twice, once to the IBM computer Watson.
Recently, Jennings has served as a “consulting producer” on Jeopardy and was the closest former champion to Trebek. Jeopardy’s Executive Producer Mike Richards announced, “We will resume production on 11/30 with a series of interim guest hosts from the Jeopardy! family – starting with Ken Jennings. Additional guest hosts to be announced. Alex believed in the importance of Jeopardy and always said that he wanted the show to go on after him. We will honor his legacy by continuing to produce the game he loved.”
Jennings said, “There will only ever be one Alex Trebek, but I’m honored to be helping Jeopardy! out with this in January.” Jennings may be a good choice, he revered Trebek and Jeopardy, but only time will tell if the American people warm up to him as they did to Alex. It is certainly a large set of showbiz shoes to fill.
But, thankfully, we still have about 20 episodes of Jeopardy, with Alex Trebek left to watch. During Christmas, they will run Jeopardy’s greatest hits, and then give us the last five espisodes after New Year’s Day 2021.
On behalf of four generations of Murphy’s, thanks for the memories Alex Trebek.