An Afternoon with Alex Trebek

One year, in a departure from our much-loved wilderness adventures, we made a trip to the bustling urban metropolis of Los Angeles for one reason: to see Alex Trebek.

It is a great honor to share our afternoon in the Jeopardy! world, a world that, sadly, Alex Trebek left this week after a noble fight with pancreatic cancer. Canadian born and raised, Alex Trebek was America’s Favorite Game Show Host.

It was 2013 and Jeopardy’s 30th year–a popular American question-answer television quiz show. They were taping five shows a day, three in the morning and two in the afternoon. We had signed up for an afternoon in the Jeopardy! studio, driven eight hours, and the next day watched the television taping of two consecutive shows.

This television show took place like most, in a sea of concrete lots in the land of Hollywood.

Athena and I stood in a long line, and eventually a studio employee gave us instructions and led about 50 of us into the building. It was essentially a warehouse, a labyrinth of narrow hallways and plywood walls.

For purposes of keeping the show’s questions and winners a secret, we were not allowed to take photos or have our phones on.

This television show, like most, was taped live; i.e., the show is performed live with only a few minor post-edits.

Jeopardy! has been on the air for 37 years and has accumulated more Emmy awards (35) than any other game show. Alex Trebek has also won seven Emmys for outstanding game show host and a Peabody Award as well.

It was easy to see what made him outstanding.

They led our parade to the audience seating where we saw contestants on stage rehearsing with a pseudo-host.  The three contestants were getting familiar with their signaling devices and answering fake questions, while production staff and sound engineers bustled around adjusting microphones, cameras, and lights. 

We were now the studio audience and our job was to clap loudly and not utter any other sound.

When it was time, the countdown started:  Five, Four, Three, Two….   

All overhead lights were extinguished and bright pink lights flooded the stage. An “On the Air” light flashed on. The Jeopardy! theme song, as familiar to me as a lullaby, blasted the studio. 

Johnny Gilbert at his lectern shouted out in his booming voice, “This Is Jeopardy!”

I was so excited I thought I was going to explode. 

Then Alex Trebek came onto the stage in his energetic happy-go-lucky walk, smiling and thanking all who were present.

Johnny Gilbert gestured for us to clap. I looked around and saw the whole studio audience smiling broadly and clapping heartily.

Although there is much illusion in the world of television and film, one thing was authentic from the start: Alex Trebek.

During the commercial breaks he came over to us. Handsome and personal, he was dressed in a dapper suit and fine leather loafers. He entertained us with his dry humor and self-deprecating jokes. Told us personal things, like his favorite color (gray), answered all our questions.

At one point, in answer to a question, he nimbly tap-danced for an impromptu half-minute. 

At 7:30 that morning Mr. Trebek had received the material for all five shows of the day.  With 61 clues and answers per show, and five shows, he facilitated 305 questions a day in front of a live audience and nine million TV viewers. 

He hosted over 8,000 Jeopardy! shows.

He covered questions and answers spanning all of the world, gliding seamlessly over accents and pronunciations, making jokes, and connecting to everyone in their living rooms.

What was most clear to me as we sat in that audience: he worked so hard and made it look so easy.

Before the show began, we were also introduced to Johnny Gilbert. He was the announcer and had been working beside Alex Trebek on the Jeopardy! stage for three decades. He was friendly and outgoing and somehow made us want to do anything possible to make the show go perfectly.

We were also introduced to the Clue Crew and the eight judges.

Once when a contestant answered a question, but not quite right, there was a quiet stirring of researchers and judges in the darkened sidelines, and within seconds the correct answer was announced.

Several hours later, after the shows were done, we were escorted into the front room and allowed to take photos. Mock contestant booths and a cardboard Alex kept us all busy. Before exiting, we were given a post card with the dates when “our” shows, #6749 and #6750, would air.

Two months later, on schedule, we watched “our” shows on TV.

Alex Trebek made everything look easy, it was part of his panache. But until Jeopardy!, his broadcasting career was a whirlwind of cancelled shows and long commutes across international borders. He spent the first decade of his career hustling for work.

He got his start on Jeopardy! while filling in for the host of “Wheel of Fortune,” pre-Pat Sajak.

Over the years he became a cultural icon, his enthusiasm was contagious and his consistently smooth style was charming. He hosted contests, other game shows, and often appeared as himself in movies. He gave much of his time and fortune to the world.

The question is: Who was the most remarkable game show host of all time and will be deeply missed?

The answer is: Who is Alex Trebek.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

76 thoughts on “An Afternoon with Alex Trebek

    • It was a fun adventure, Craig. We stayed in LA for a few days and had lots of fun in many places. I’m not a fan of urban centers, but there is a lot to see and do in LA. Glad you enjoyed today’s post. Thanks so much for your visit.

  1. What a lovely tribute and a cool behind-the-scenes view of Jeopardy. Thanks for sharing your insights, Jet, on the remarkable man who was the face of the show that celebrated knowledge. As a product of a liberal arts education, I am a true believer in a broad-based knowledge rather than narrow specialization. Jeopardy was one of the few places in our society where it was cool to be a “nerd.”

    • What a lovely comment, thanks Mike. I agree about Jeopardy being one of the few places where it’s cool to be a nerd, and for 35 years they have been sharing this important message. As you say: celebrating knowledge. And Alex Trebek had a way of making it fun. Thanks for your visit and comment, Mike, much appreciated.

  2. That sounds like a fun day. The entertainment world is a lot of work. I’ve only seen a few Jeopardy shows and that was many, many years ago. But I do think Alex Trebek was probably the best of the Hollywood gameshow types.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed these Jeopardy moments, Tim. You’re right, the entertainment world is a lot of work; and we’re lucky to receive their magic. Many thanks and best wishes for a fun weekend ahead.

    • We were indeed having fun, Sherry. We stayed in LA for a few days and did some really fun things. You could stay there a lifetime and never run out of fun things to explore. Thanks so much, Sherry.

  3. Hi Jet, What a fun experience and a wonderful remembrance of Alex Trebek. In all the interviews upon his death, what comes across loud and clear is what a kind man he was. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Jet, thank you for all of the information I never knew about this man, what a great guy! I was shocked when I got the news of his passing. He’s been in my life as long as I can remember. 😊

    • It is a great joy to share a few of the remarkable aspects of Alex Trebek. I’m really glad you enjoyed them, John. Like you, he has been in my life as long as I can remember. Many thanks for your kind comment.

  5. I first watched him when he was hosting Concentration. I liked that game a lot and was sorry when it was canceled. He will be missed. I don’t know that the show will ever be the same or if I will watch it with a new host? Time will tell.

    This is a beautiful tribute to him, Jet and Athena’s images are wonderful.

    • It is difficult to imagine this world without Alex Trebek in it, espec., as you say Deborah, Jeopardy. I’ve seen murmurings of new contenders for the hosting position, but oh would those be some challenging shoes to fill. I appreciate your warm comment, and am happy you enjoyed today’s post.

    • It was indeed a great adventure, Barbara, and not our usual kind, so immersed were we in freeways and the scurry that is LA. But I am so glad we did it, and having an afternoon with Alex Trebek was truly a treat. Fun to share it with you, Barbara, thanks so much.

  6. All of life is interconnected.

    A very dear childhood friend of mine (who lives outside of LA) wrote last week to say how sad she was about the death of Alex Trebek and that she had been fortunate enough to know him personally. Then another friend died very suddenly of pancreatic cancer….
    Life is strange and uncertain and yet through this medium we are able to share so much and people like Alex Trebeck continue to live on and influence us.
    I love the picture of you and Athena with the cut out Alex:)

    Thank you – wishing you both a peaceful and creative weekend. Janet 🙂

    • Oh so nice to hear that your friend knew Alex Trebek personally, Janet. And yes, life is strange and uncertain, so it is fortunate we can pay tribute and share experiences here. Isn’t that a fun photo of Athena and I with the cut-out Alex? Glad you liked it. I don’t think he would’ve been taller than Athena, so I’m thinking they made the cut-out a little bigger than life-size. Always wonderful to hear from you, dear Janet, thank you.

  7. Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve never seen Jeopardy. Now that confession is out of the way, I have to say this is a wonderful memory of a fun day out, and you’ve done a great piece celebrating a fine Canadian. I enjoyed reading this, and I’m struck by how much we are missing times like these right now. It’s good to look back, and a reminder to hold on to the fact we’ll have fun times again sometime soon.
    Thanks, Jet!

    • Thanks, PC, for the confession, I appreciate your honesty and fun spirit here. Having grown up in England, you probably never heard mention of it while growing up. When I was a kid, on weekdays when we weren’t in school, my mother would reward each of us kids a penny for each correct answer in the easier segment, and a nickel for a correct answer in the more difficult segment. That was before Alex Trebek came along. Fun to share one of your fellow Canadians here, pc, and my warmest thanks for your thoughts and words.

  8. What a fabulous tribute to this remarkable man. I felt as if I was right there sitting beside you in the audience. In the interviews I have watched after his diagnosis he did come across so genuinely. I also understand he was still taping shows two weeks prior to his passing. Perhaps a reflection of his dedication to the show and his work ethic. Thank you for sharing these treasured memories.

    • Yes, Alex Trebek was busy and engaged right up to the end. He also had recently finished a memoir, which Athena read and enjoyed. It’s remarkable people like this who keep us all pushing forward, encouraging us to do our best. My warmest thanks and smiles to you, Sue.

  9. Fascinating account of attending a taping. And great photos to give us a total picture. Alex was the pride of Sudbury, Ontario, a big Montreal Canadiens fan (like me) and a public supporter of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

    • Alex Trebek was really a stalwart Canadian and you’re right, Frank, had many Canadian fans, I’m glad to see you are one of them. He was, as you say, a big presence with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, and in fact was their honorary president. My warm thanks for your contribution.

  10. Very different subject and very sad. Loved the way it is live but contestants are given the opportunity to rehearse somewhat to become familiar with buzzing in. Great job of describing how the show comes alive.

    • It was very interesting to see how the whole Jeopardy team prepared for their live taping, Bill. And I, too, was glad to see contestants had a little time at the beginning to get familiar with the buzzing in. The game board is pretty far away from the contestants, so if you ever see a contestant squinting (they do a lot), it’s because the board is so far away. Insider information, lol.

  11. What a wonderful personal story with Alex Trebek, Jet, I enjoyed it very much! Although we all knew it was one day coming, I was still shocked and so saddened when hearing the announcement of Alex’s passing. We wish people like him could live forever. He had such personal charisma, and I loved watching him and the game over the years. RIP Alex, you will be missed around the world. 🙏

    • You’re right, Donna, yes he has been so ill, espec. recently, and we did all know he would be retiring soon. I think it was just a little harder for us because he never retired, he was here one day doing shows, and gone the next. Thanks so much for your lovely comment.

    • Yes, Andrea, it was great fun to be part of the studio audience of Jeopardy. There are many shows the public is allowed to visit as a studio audience member in the Hollywood area. Being a Jeopardy fan, I found it thrilling and unique to be behind the scenes for an afternoon.

  12. I never watched Jeopardy at all, but after Alex Trebek’s death it became obvious how many people did, and how many enjoyed it. I’m glad you had the chance to participate in a show; you clearly had a very good time!

  13. I enjoyed your heartfelt tribute to Alex Trebek – who almost seems like a dear friend, we’ve known him so long. He will be sorely missed. It was very interesting to hear about how the show is put together, too. A funny aside about Jeopardy and our mother, a devoted fan of the show and of AT: In the mid 90s, Mom and I were traveling in Poland and staying at a friend’s apt. We happened to tune into an episode of Jeopardy! – in Polish! We were proud to actually get one question correct. ha

    • I am surprised and delighted to hear you and your dear mother had the incredible chance of seeing Jeopardy in Poland. What a great time that must’ve been. Funny, too, that you were able to answer a question correctly. I loved hearing this, Nan, thanks so much.

  14. Jet, what a lovely adventure. I enjoyed reading the details of it. I loved Alex too. Jeopardy was a dependable thing, a part of daily life, just knowing it was there was comforting (even though I was never any good at it). This post, your memories, made a beautiful tribute. Hugs on the wing.

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the tribute to Alex Trebek, Teagan. We send him off with lots of love. Thanks so much for your visit and comment and hugs — much appreciated — and sending happy smiles your way.

  15. How fun that must have been! I was aware that they generally taped all five shows in one day – my daughter was once on the Dating Game. (many of the contestants on that show are actors just getting their start and if they win, they generally opt for the cash instead of the prize package!)

    • I liked getting the inside scoop on the Dating Game, Jan. Each show is their own world, fun to get a taste of those worlds. Your daughter was very brave. Always wonderful to “see” you, thanks Jan.

    • I love knowing that your mom liked Jeopardy, Michael Stephen, and that you two watched it together. My mother loved it too, and I started watching it with her as a young girl (I think she made us do it) on weekdays when it was a school holiday. She gave my siblings and me a penny for every correct answer in the first round, and a nickel for every correct answer in Double Jeopardy. Funny world.

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