Jeopardy! with Ken Jennings

Note: A break from the movie reviews to write about one of my favorite shows of all time.

I’ll admit that it was kind of weird.

After 30+ years of Alex Trebek at the helm, it was strange seeing someone else behind the podium on Jeopardy! Monday night.

I’ve had a relationship with Jeopardy! for nearly as long as Trebek hosted. When he announced his pancreatic cancer diagnosis in March 2019, I wrote this piece about my relationship with the show, and how it was a show that I used to watch with my dad. The fact that Trebek and my dad had the same cancer was a shitty cherry on the sundae, and made the news hit a little harder.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Trebek, though it wasn’t for a lack of effort. I’ve taken nearly every possible Jeopardy! online test over the past few years, trying to get to the next step, never feeling like I never get more than half the questions right. I famously (to me) missed a question about Hamilton, though it was before I became super obsessed with the musical. And I still hold out hope that I can make it on the show someday, though I’ll admit my watching of the show has fallen off recently just because of the looming sadness about the eventual departure of Alex Trebek.

I watched the last week of Alex’s shows with some trepidation. I knew the final episode on Friday would be the last time he would host, and it was a bit strange that, due to the show holding back the episodes, that his final episode was wishing us a Merry Christmas on January 8th. But it was also somehow very fitting.

The week started with a message from Alex asking us to be nice to each other and pitch in in the fight against coronavirus. The five episode countdown to the end, where Alex seemed strong and very on his game, was hard to watch, especially with the end already known. The montage at the end of Friday’s episode was much needed, and reminded me why I used to watch every day, often with my dad but also with others in my life.

Ken Jennings was announced as the first of a series of guest hosts after Alex had passed away, and I was a fan from his record-setting run on the show and the things he has done since. Of all the people to take the reins, even if it’s temporarily, it’s appropriate that the only person to appear on Jeopardy! more than Alex (and Johnny Gilbert) got the first run behind the podium.

I assumed that Jennings’ presence on the show with the new season as a producer of some sort was to place him in the position to potentially take over for the man. Jennings seems to understand that his place behind the lectern is a big deal, and he opened his first episode with a great tribute to the man he was replacing:

And I have to say, as host he did pretty well. Just the right amount of banter with the contestants, solid interviews at the first break, and an overall good job at navigating the board with the contestants.

I admit that it’s hard to separate the show from Alex Trebek. The only other person to stand/sit behind the podium during his run was Pat Sajak in a one-episode April Fools’ Day episode some time ago. I even view the Will Farrell parodies on Saturday Night Live as being something different; Farrell was not really doing an “true” impression of Trebek, but instead using the format of the show to lampoon how poorly celebrities often did on the show.

So, like a lot of fans of Jeopardy!, I will miss Alex Trebek. Maybe I won’t watch every single episode as it airs, but I’ll watch enough, checking back in to see the various guest hosts until a permanent replacement is named. I still think that the role will ultimately go to Ken Jennings, but there could be someone else that surprises in the role as well. They will never replace Alex, at least for a couple of decades, but as Jennings said in his opening monologue, Alex loved the show and would want it to continue, so I think we should all try to enjoy it when we can.

Until next time…

Dad v Jeopardy!

I didn’t need Jeopardy! to know that my dad was a genius, but it sure helped to prove it every night.

Just like most every kid, I thought my dad was the smartest person in the world. Granted, he had to be pretty smart to graduate with an degree in economics and all that (though I always joked that economics was made up when he was in college in the 1960s so he learned it before it got all hard). I recently learned he spent two-ish years at Berkley… until it got a little hard for him (or too liberal), after which he moved on to BYU, graduated with that economics degree, married my mom, and joined the Army.

But my dad was a pretty humble, blue-collar type of person my entire life. Before he got his job at the post office in 1994 (the ultimate blue-collar, moving folks to the middle class job ever), he worked in jobs not normally associated with one that didn’t get into law school: Pepsi delivery driver, Army Reservist (he was an administrative specialist), souvenir salesman. Anything to ensure that his rather large family had enough to eat and a room over their heads. The things a humble man does to support his family.

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