Facts could be trusted. Facts consoled.

On this point, Trebek is remarkably direct: Even if he can’t quite understand the public fascination with his life, he knows he means something significant to the culture, something soothing and in short supply. He knows he fills a need. For the 36 years hosting “Jeopardy!” — an industry record— he has been a nostalgic father figure of sorts, showing up reliably at dinnertime and remaining tantalizingly aloof. In the autumn of the media patriarchs, he stands practically alone, untinged by scandal. His authority derives from his defense of facts, not their distortion…

Trebek might have inspired dread in his teachers and early employers, but he discovered that his real talent was in projecting calm, in allowing others to shine. As a host, it has been his proudest quality — his ability to buoy an anxious contestant through tone alone.

Facts themselves can confer steadiness. A small aside: I took to “Jeopardy!” early, and in high school had a weird, cursory career competing in televised trivia contests. My teammates and I — immigrants all, as it happened — glutted ourselves on dates and data with a hunger I couldn’t have possibly explained at the time but that now seems embarrassingly obvious. Facts could be trusted. Facts consoled. Their patient, dogged acquisition constituted a kind of shy possession of the world.

Of course, any possession in this life is, at best, temporary. “My life has been a quest for knowledge and understanding, and I’m nowhere near having achieved that. And it doesn’t bother me in the least,” Trebek cheerfully concludes. He ends the book at home, like of all us, in quarantine. He is exhausted by cancer treatments, exhausted by uncertainty but still sublimely calm and grateful. As he’s always advised his contestants to do, he’s already looking ahead to the next question.

~ Parul Sehgal, from In Alex Trebek’s Reluctant, Moving Memoir, Life Is All About the Next Question, in New York Times, July 21, 2020


Notes: His new book “The Answer Is: Reflections On My Life” can be found here.

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