Jeopardy was a huge part of my childhood. It seemed like every time I visited my grandparents, which was everyday, Jeopardy was on. It’s how I learned to embrace my huge thirst for and retention of useless trivia. Because it’s not totally useless if it could potentially help you win on Jeopardy one day, right? It’s why the only team I joined in school was Quiz Bowl, and why Quiz Bowl captain was one of my favorite things to list on college applications. It’s part of the bond I share with the aforementioned grandparents, who are two of my favorite people on the planet. And Alex Trebek has been the face of it all for my entire life. News of his passing hit my family hard, as he felt more like a friend than a celebrity. He is mourned and will be deeply missed by legions, myself and those I love most among them.
Celebrity memoirs aren’t something I generally gravitate toward, but I’m so glad to have read this one. Trebek wrote it in response to the outpouring of love and support he received after revealing his pancreatic cancer diagnosis. It’s his goodbye letter to the world, and it was incredibly poignant. For an additional gut punch, listen to the audiobook co-narrated by himself and Ken Jennings, Jeopardy’s longest reigning champion. Rarely do I consume a book in one sitting, but that’s what I did here. And I spend the majority of that time smiling, with tears threatening to fall at any moment.
The first few chapters are standard memoir fare. We learn about Trebek’s childhood and school days, his family and his early career. We learn about his move to America and how that eventually led to his 36 years as the host of Jeopardy. We learn about the wife who he describes as the other half of his soul, and about the life they made together. He was a man with very little angst in his life, and you could feel his acknowledgement and appreciation of this fact through his writing.
In the back half of the book, we are given anecdotes from Trebek’s time with Jeopardy. He tells us about some of the more memorable champions, about the mustache controversy, and about his thoughts on Will Ferrell’s impression of him on SNL. I loved getting these tidbits. I especially loved his chapter on Ken Jennings, and how he was unable to help developing a friendship with the man during Ken’s 74 episode winning streak. The mustache chapter made me legitimately laugh out loud.
Mixed into both portions of the book were Trebek’s philosophical thoughts on life and the things he hoped we as a nation and as a world would improve upon. These were always kindly conveyed, and gave a sense of just how nice a man Trebek truly was. But the last few chapters, those detailing life with cancer and his last days, were what shattered my heart.
Was this a literary work of genius? No. The writing was serviceable, but nothing special. What was special was the author, and his decision to share his story with the world before he was taken from us. I’m thankful to have been given a peek into the life he lived, the life that touched millions in ways he never understood. While I hope Jeopardy continues to educate and inspire for generations to come, it’ll never quite be the same.
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