Last week, our televisions showed us some of the worst that humanity has to offer. But it also showed us the very best. You just had to be watching a game show to see it.
“Jeopardy!” aired Alex Trebek’s final episodes, two months after his death Nov. 8 of pancreatic cancer. I had long stopped watching “Jeopardy!,” because it only reminded me just how many facts I’ve forgotten since high school. But like millions of others, I tuned in to see those final moments from the legendary host. And with every single one of those moments, I found myself in complete and total awe.
Trebek filmed his final five episodes of the show he had hosted since 1984 in October, just weeks after having surgery. Mike Richards, the executive producer of “Jeopardy!,” has said that Trebek didn’t want to delay the tapings, even though he was in pain.
You could never tell by watching the shows. Though his voice sounded weak at times and he looked a little pale, he was at the top of his game. He pronounced words most of us have never heard with ease. He kindly, yet authoritatively, told contestants they were incorrect. And he smiled and joked with contestants showing no indication of what he was going through personally.
On the episode that aired Monday, Jan. 4, Trebek offered a special message to viewers urging us to show compassion to those who are suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re trying to build a gentler, kinder society. If we all pitch in just a little bit, we’re going to get there,” he said. Then he moved back to his lectern to start the game amid the spontaneous applause of the crew, who were unaware of what he was going to say. His final episode ended with him telling us he’d see us next week.
Trebek died just 10 days after filming that episode.
At my job, I no doubt grumble about something nearly every day. My hour-long commute, my early wake-up time or the instances the elevator has issues and I have to take the stairs. Alex Trebek was dying, struggling through the pain of surgery and illness. But instead of calling in sick or grumbling to the crew, he continued to do his job to the best of his ability with class, professionalism, grace and humor. And he even took a few moments to care about all of us. If that’s not the definition of awe-inspiring, I don’t know what is.
“Jeopardy!” is continuing, just like Trebek wanted. As you read this, Ken Jennings has already begun his stint as guest host and, eventually, a permanent host will be named. The iconic Trebek will be replaced, but he will never be forgotten. He leaves behind not only a legacy of immense talent, but also a tremendous example of strength, decency and professionalism that I am truly grateful to have witnessed.