By Ittai Sopher PZ ’19
On March 6, Alex Trebek, age 78, announced in a prepared statement that he will continue to host “Jeopardy!,” even though he has been diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for that stage of pancreatic cancer is three percent. Despite this, when Trebek responded publicly to his diagnosis, he did so with optimism and humor.
“I plan to beat the low survival-rate statistics for this disease,” Trebek said in his statement. “Truth told, I have to, because, under the terms of my contract, I have to host Jeopardy! for three more years.”
The Claremont Colleges crossed paths with Trebek last March of 2018, when then-senior at CMC, Daniel Ludlam ’18, appeared on “Jeopardy!” and won $1,000. “I was really sad to hear about the diagnosis,” Ludlam, who is now attending officer candidate school for the United States Coast Guard, said. “The entire trivia community is upset.”
Ludlam also told CMC publications after his appearance that his liberal-arts education directly helped improve his performance on the show: “my Freshman Humanities Seminar-Identity in Latin America with Professor Lee Skinner lent itself quite nicely to the Double Jeopardy! Category of Mexican States.”
At the time of his appearance on “Jeopardy!”, Ludlam noted that Trebek seemed frail. Ludlam appeared on the program, according to the shows website, right before Trebek had an operation on a severe head injury that he suffered after a fall.
“Normally, he’s a bigger personality,” Ludlam, who was the senior class president of the CMC Class of 2018, said. “But since he was about to have his surgery, he was a little more subdued.”
Scripps Associate Director of Admission Jessica Johnston also appeared on “Jeopardy!” and admires Trebek, but despite appearing on two episodes of the show, Johnston said she never got to know Trebek well.
“He’s an institution!” Johnston said, who won two games and $42,300 on “Jeopardy!” in episodes that aired in March 2017. “I don’t feel like I have a special bond with him or anything just because I was around him for a few hours of my life.”
Johnston’s success on the show has given her a newfound opportunity to explore the world and take a break from trivia. “The only trivia I’ve really done since I was on the show was while I was on a cruise to Antarctica,” Johnston said. “Which is what I spent some of my winnings on.”
Even though “Jeopardy!” contestants get a close-up view of Trebek and individual photos with the game-show host, Ludlam said that interactions with Trebek were kept to a minimum. “We were intentionally sequestered so we wouldn’t interact with him outside of taping,” Ludlam said.
Similarly, Johnston described Trebek as curt and professional during her appearance on the show.
“He’s a pro for a reason: he comes in, does his job, and moves along,” Johnston said. “My first episode was taped in the afternoon and it was clear he was antsy to leave and beat the traffic on the 405 like a true Angeleno, which I found funny.”
Though few people know Trebek well, perhaps his most prolific contestant Ken Jennings, who won 74 consecutive episodes of “Jeopardy!”, remembers Trebek as a contemporary voice of reason, likening the game-show host to legendary news anchor Walter Cronkite.
“Alex Trebek remains the last of the old-school broadcasters who once visited us every night as a matter of ritual,” Jennings said. “The voice of facts in a post-fact world.”
Ludlam did not witness the trivia craze associated with Trebek when he attended school here. “CMC doesn’t have a strong trivia culture, unfortunately, but most undergrads don’t have one either,” Ludlam said.
This year there are more trivia options inside the Claremont Colleges; Roberts Pavilion hosts a weekly trivia game on Tuesday nights.
As the future of Jeopardy, while Trebek has no plans to retire, he has hinted at his ideal future host of the show. “It’s probably going to be a woman, somebody younger … somebody with a great sense of humor,” Trebek said in an interview at the 92nd Street Y in New York, going on to joke, “So I nominated Betty White.”
Photo courtesy of Fox News