I came in third on Jeopardy! That’s another, less blunt way of saying that I got my ass beat. So I have no Alex Trebek stories; they film five episodes a day, so each and every day, 10 hopeful contestants go home immediately and disappointed. It’s a well-oiled machine. My interactions with Trebek were limited to exactly what you saw on television—the brief get-to-know-you segment, and the audio-less small talk as the credits play. The very first time I saw him was when the cameras started rolling and he walked onstage to begin the show.
This is exactly what you’d want and expect from the man who, for 35 years, has hosted the best and smartest game show in existence. Businesslike. Competence exuded through every pore. Cool, professional, authoritative. (It’s what makes his occasional jokes work so well. They’re gems because they’re so rare. They’re earned.) You are not there, in Trebek’s house, for chit-chat. You are there to answer some damn questions. And there is no one on earth better suited to oversee the merciless, no-frills format of Jeopardy! than him.
Today Alex Trebek announced that he has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Cancer is bad; pancreatic cancer is very bad; stage 4 is very, very bad. This is bad. Yet Trebek’s video announcing this is classic him: He is unflappable. He is matter-of-fact. And he closes with a joke when all you want to do while watching it is cry.
Trebek, 78, says he’ll try to continue hosting the show as long as he can. That’s a gift, however short it may prove. We’ll have that many more episodes to revel in the work of a man who is the best at what he does, and is still at the top of his game, and has never, ever, mailed it in.
Trebek began hosting Jeopardy! the year I was born. I literally have never known a world without him. And I can’t really picture one.