Alex Trebek's Perseverance Matters in Today's TV Game Show Landscape

A.J. Jacobs
Opinion Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

Great men for $200. 

Answer: Canadian-born quiz show host Alex Trebek is one of the most extraordinary heroes of our time. Seriously. 

In an age that is increasingly chaotic and impulsive, he embodies the virtues of steadfastness and reliability. He's been there for us almost every weeknight since September 1984 — a record-breaking nearly 8,000 episodes of Jeopardy! — in a sharp suit with a soothing demeanor. In 2001, he shaved his famous moustache. It was a bit of a shock, but we've recovered. 

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The host was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in March.

Practically nothing stops this man from his service. In March, he announced that he is battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer (since this news, some of his tumors have shrunk by over 50 percent, according to recent reports). But even while undergoing chemotherapy, he put on a hairpiece and a stiff upper lip and showed up at the Culver City, California, studio. He's confessed that in between tapings he was in his dressing room writhing in pain. But come showtime, he knotted his tie and went out on stage to inform us about potent potables. 

He doesn't raise his voice or mock contestants. When overseeing winning streaks such as those of Ken Jennings or James Holzhauer, he's amiable without being cloying. His famous "Oh, sorry" may be seen by some as condescending, but it's just politeness. He once said, "It's just as easy to be nice as it is to be unpleasant."

(Credit: Jeopardy Productions Inc.)

At a time when everyone seems to have a thin skin, he demonstrates a willingness to laugh at himself. He loves Will Ferrell's impression of him on Saturday Night Live. And Trebek has played exaggerated versions of himself in everything from The Simpsons to Orange Is the New Black.  

Most importantly, in this allegedly post-fact world, where truth seems ever more elusive, he reminds us there is such a thing as authority and trustworthiness. 

He gives us 61 facts per night, which translates to over 480,000 facts since he began. We're talking carefully worded, thoroughly checked facts. 

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From comedy to drama and beyond.

Yes, the inventor of the Rubik's Cube is from Hungary. Yes, kowtow means "to knock one's head" in Chinese. Yes, Martin Van Buren practiced law in Kinderhook.  

You can count on it. This former philosophy major reminds us there is such a thing as objective truth. 

Years ago, I interviewed him. He was immensely likable. He was similar to his onscreen persona, though he dropped a surprising number of curse words. (His advice to young people was, "The world is filled with a**holes. Don't grow up to be one.") 

During our chat, he said many wise things, but one of my favorites was this: "I'm curious about everything — even subjects that don't interest me."

Which is a bit paradoxical, but it's also wonderful. We should all be like that. This host's example encourages us to be curious about everything, even those things that don't interest us. 

Question: Who is, of course, Alex Trebek?

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