Longtime Jeopardy host, Alex Trebek died Sunday from stage four pancreatic cancer. It was not unexpected, but still incredibly shocking, especially to people like me who held on to hope that somehow he – of all the people in the world – would beat the disease.
To fans worldwide, Trebek was an institution. He hosted Jeopardy for 36 years, from 1984 until his death on Sunday. Five days a week, Trebek came through our television screens poised, professional and to the point, challenging some of the brightest minds this world has ever seen.
Jeopardy has a special place in my heart. What’s funny is that as a child, I deliberately avoided watching the show. I thought it was for old people and incredibly boring.
Beyond that, I had no clue what the answers were or why contestants kept prefacing their responses with, “what is?”
By the time I hit my teens, I had a greater appreciation for the show. It was cerebral, but entertaining. In a sea of mindless drivel on TV, it felt smart, respectful, clean and diverse. I saw all races on that platform and witnessed everyday people walking away with thousands of dollars.
I felt smarter after every episode. And fell in love with Trebek, who taught me so much, especially how to pronounce those 20-pound French words.
So, in March 2019, when Trebek announced that he was battling stage four pancreatic cancer and had planned to fight it, I cried.
“Just like 50,000 other people in the United States each year, this week I was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. Now, normally the prognosis for this is not very encouraging. But, I’m going to fight this, and I’m going to keep working,” he said from the Jeopardy stage.
Trebek went on to say that he planned to “beat the low survival rate statistics for this disease”, adding humorously that he had to, “because under the terms of my contract, I have to host Jeopardy for three more years.”
His reminder of his contractual obligations to ABC made me chuckle through the tears. But, it was yet another reminder that even in the face of a grim prognosis, he was willing to do the work to live.
Trebek Brought Awareness To A Little Known Disease
Immediately after watching Trebek’s announcement, I started Googling pancreatic cancer and learned quite a bit about this silent killer.
For example, I learned that signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer don’t typically show until the disease is advanced. It’s most curable in its early stages, but it’s seldom detected at that point.
It can also be excruciatingly painful. Trebek said so himself. Multiple chemo treatments didn’t help. Just that fact alone caused me to respect Trebek even more.
In January, he said one of his chemo drugs was “killing” him.
Knowing that he was experiencing painful episodes, but buttoned up his suit and walked out in front of a live and television audience every night like a true professional demands the world’s respect.
We lost several celebrities to cancer this year, including Kelly Preston and Chadwick Boseman, both of whom kept their struggles private. And understandably so.
But, I have to admit that I appreciate that Trebek shared his battle publicly with his fans. It shined a spotlight on the disease, and allowed us to observe a true professional at work.
There was no doubt that Trebek was respected by his colleagues and the world at large, but he was truly loved by his viewers and the contestants.
Few people will forget the Tournament of Champions episode last year, where contestant Dhruv Gaur risked almost everything to remind Trebek how much he was loved. Take a look in the video down below.
What Happens Next?
Jeopardy producers have made it known that Trebek recorded enough episodes to last up to December 25, 2020. So, his final episode will air on Christmas Day.
There’s no doubt it will be an emotional one and I fully expect the world to be watching.
At this point, I cannot imagine Jeopardy without Trebek at the helm. Watching the show tonight may make me a bit emotional. But, I know the show must go on. Trebek would want it that way.
This Bahamian Gyal