August 4, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Alex Trebek’s last ‘Jeopardy!’ episodes are airing this week

Late TV legend Alex Trebek was hospitalized shortly before filming his final episodes of “Jeopardy!,” but despite his executive producer’s protests, the host was on the job days before he died of pancreatic cancer.

“He was a warrior, and what he was able to do by getting himself back to the set to tape those final episodes. … We didn’t know it was going to be his final episodes, and neither did he — but it was Herculean,” executive producer Mike Richards told NBC’s “Today” on Monday.

“He was in enormous pain. He was 10 days away from passing away. And you will not sense any of that in these episodes. He is strong, he sounds great, he’s funny, and he’s amazing.”

Richards spoke with “Today” anchors Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie about Trebek’s tireless spirit during his last days on set. The Canadian entertainer’s victory lap as longtime emcee of the hit quiz show airs this week, starting Monday and ending Friday.

“I think a normal person would have said, ‘I’m not gonna show up’ a year and a half before those final episodes,” Richards said. “I mean, he was getting chemotherapy once a week. So I think there was a level of professionalism. I think he really understood the importance of the show and what it meant to people. … He made being smart cool.”

For nearly 40 years, Trebek has opened each installment of “Jeopardy!” with a brief monologue about current events or what unfolded in the show’s latest game. But at the top of Monday’s episode, Richards said, the host does something that gave everyone “chills” before unveiling the day’s categories.

“He comes out and gives this absolutely amazing speech about the tough times that we’re in and the importance of us, as a country — as a community, humanity — coming together and being there for each other,” Richards said.

“There are specific moments in ‘Jeopardy!’ when you clap, and then there are moments when you’re quiet,” he added. “Well, there’s not very many people in the studio because of COVID, and we all burst into applause. And you don’t see it on camera, but as he’s going to the categories, he sees us start to applaud, and he kind of looked at us, like, ‘What are you guys doing?’ … We were so moved that we had to applaud.”

Fewer than two weeks before delivering those poignant opening remarks, Trebek underwent intestinal surgery as part of his cancer treatment. After battling the disease for more than a year, the renowned trivia master died in November at age 80 in his Los Angeles home.

“This man was unbelievable,” Richards said of Trebek’s resolve before his death. “He calls me, and he says, ‘Mike, I’m gonna be fine. I’ll be in to tape. I was able to eat Jell-O today.’ And I went, ‘Alex, that’s great. But that doesn’t mean you’re gonna be ready to host five episodes of a game show,’ which is an enormous amount of effort. And he said, ‘Do not cancel. I will be there.’”

At the end of Friday’s episode, ABC will also broadcast a tribute to Trebek, along with a preview of his interim successors as the show continues its search for a permanent replacement. Seasoned “Jeopardy!” champion Ken Jennings is set to take the helm temporarily until a new host is announced, and Trebek never publicly voiced an opinion as to whom that should be.

“He had mentioned a couple of names, but he wanted to stay out of that, and he knew that we would do a good job looking for people,” Richards said. “No one’s gonna replace him, and he knew that. As humble as he was, he knew that there was no chance of that. … Someone smart and credible and that loves the show — that’s what he wanted.”