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For 36 years of “Jeopardy!” contestants, Alex Trebek’s passing is a death in the family.
I was raised in a “Jeopardy!” household. My mother faithfully watched the Art Fleming original, and wrote a disapproving letter to NBC when it was canceled. She would have dearly loved to go on the show (and would have been great, but the show was on hiatus when she went to to audition). When King World Productions announced the show’s revival, Mom was of course thrilled, followed by “Alex Trebek? No — he’ll kill it.”
He didn’t kill it, of course. If you watched this summer’s rerun of his first two episodes over the summer, you can sort of see what worried her. There are full episodes of Alex’s previous show, “High Rollers,” on YouTube, and those first two “Jeopardy!” shows are still “High Rollers” Alex, game-showing it up. But either Alex or the producers quickly figured out that the gameplay of the best quiz show ever created was strong enough to do the work. And even on “High Rollers,” you can already see what would make Alex a legend: the professionalism, the crisp delivery, the ability to put contestants at their ease. When you combined that with Jeopardy’s pace and question quality, Alex quickly became what he’ll be remembered as: the public face of the notion of the value of knowledge for its own sake.

Alex was a Host — not a game show host, a host. On each show, he welcomed three strangers into his home, not to mention millions of viewers, and treated them with warmth and civility. He congratulated contestants who got questions right (“Good for you!”), encouraged those who were struggling (“You still control the board — start building that back up!”), all while somehow conveying the impression that he really wished all three players could somehow win.
When the illness that would take him from us was diagnosed, he handled it with the same grace as if he were reading a Potent Potables category. Once again, he was the face and voice of knowledge and reassurance: explaining and updating his prognosis with clarity and candor, acknowledging the ups and downs, and reminding us that while cancer is a player of Ken Jennings-esque fearsomeness, it never, ever has a runaway.
Thanks for the memories, Alex. With all deserved respect to Ken, you’re the Jeopardy GOAT.

WIBC reporter Eric Berman was a four-time winner on “Jeopardy!” and a semifinalist in the Tournament of Champions.