An ode to Alex Trebek during the final week of his Jeopardy! episodes | Arts + Entertainment | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

An ode to Alex Trebek during the final week of his Jeopardy! episodes

CP Illustration: Abbie Adams
Few television presenters are as dedicated to correct pronunciation as Alex Trebek was while hosting Jeopardy! When a clue featured a word from another language, or when pronouncing a contestant's name, he aggressively tried to say it correctly. On several occasions, he would announce a correction after a commercial break if he pronounced a contestant's name wrong.

His careful speech is best on display in a 2019 YouTube compilation of his flamboyant pronunciation of the word "genre"; most English speakers would pronounce it like "john-ruh," but Trebek, a proud Canadian, adds a bit of French flair.

On Fri., Jan. 8, the final episode of Jeopardy! hosted by Alex Trebek will air. The show will continue without him, hosted in the interim (and maybe permanently) by the show's best-known contestant, Ken Jennings. But the show will never be the same. Trebek was a kind of TV host from a different era. He was stoic with a dry sense of humor, he was never flashy, and above all, he was curious.

Trebek died in November after a public battle with pancreatic cancer. His life was so intertwined with Jeopardy! that when Trebek was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, he announced it to the public with a direct address to the audience from the set of the show. A year later, he gave another update on his health, saying that even though the one-year survival rate of pancreatic cancer patients is 18%, he surpassed it.

When he announced his illness, there was a collective sadness, partly because he was so beloved, partly because no one had tried to imagine a future of quiz show television beyond Trebek. He hosted Jeopardy! for 37 years, a runtime unmatched by practically anyone else on television, except Pat Sajak, host of Wheel of Fortune, who is frankly leagues below Trebek in terms of personality, and basically everything else. (When asked about Sajak in a 2018 interview, Trebek politely said, "Look, we’re friends, but we don’t socialize.")

In the past year or so, videos like the one of Trebek saying "genre" or riffing with a contestant became more popular because we all knew they would be limited. One, which has gone viral several times, features Trebek eviscerating a contestant by calling her a "loser" after she explains her involvement in something called "nerdcore hip hop." In another, the usually stone-faced Trebek became visibly choked up when a contestant, who didn't know the answer to Final Jeopardy, instead wrote, "We <3 you Alex."

Watching the final week of Trebek's Jeopardy! episodes has been a strange, sad experience. He knew he was going, and maybe knew that this was his last week filming. In an interview this week, Jeopardy! executive Mike Richards explained how Trebek was in the hospital a week before filming the episodes, how they were shot 10 days before his death, how he was in pain and the filming took "herculean" effort.

Trebek opened the first episode of the week with a statement about the pandemic. “I’d like you to open up your hands and open up your hearts to those who are still suffering because of COVID-19 — people who are suffering through no fault of their own.”

I tried to watch this episode like I normally would, yelling out answers when I know them, yelling at contestants for missing an obvious answer, and hating on a smug contestant who was on a long winning streak because his name was Brayden.

Alex Trebek was not the first host of Jeopardy!, and he won't be the last. It will go on without him, which is likely what he wanted. Ultimately, the show was not about him, it was about the contestants, the audience, and the trivia. But boy, those are some big shoes to fill.

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