‘Jeopardy!’ Without Alex Trebek?

November 9, 2020

by Leo Morris

I’m taking a break from brooding over the latest COVID-19 surge and cursing the chaos of the presidential race so I can properly mourn the passing of longtime “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek.

And, of course, obsess over who will be chosen to replace him.

“Please, please, please,” I texted my sister (and she replied to concur), “don’t let it be Ken Jennings.”

I wouldn’t say my sister and I are fanatics of the game, but we watch every day from our homes In Fort Wayne and Indianapolis and frequently text each other during a show to comment on everything from the cleverness of a category name to the absurd upspeaking style of a funny looking contestant. It’s not as satisfying as watching the show together and trying to be the first to shout out a correct answer, but it’s a diverting way to spend a half-hour.

This is the point at which some readers are undoubtedly thinking, “Well, you’re a geezer now, and ‘Jeopardy!’ is something the old folks just love, so, ho-hum.” But the ruth is that I’ve watched the show for most of the nearly four decades Trebek has been host.

For a few years there, it was on at 5 p.m. in Fort Wayne, and I had to speed home from work to see most of the Double Jeopardy round. I can also now confess that sometimes I would sneak out early so I could see the whole show.

I know many fans adore Jennings because he’s the winningest contestant in the show’s history, but something about him just irritates me. I think it might be his cavalier manner (I hesitate to say he sneers, but, well …), as if to say, “Look at me, I know so much more than you do.”

Yeah, well, pal, once that might have gotten you a beer for winning the bar bet, but that was before Google. Just cramming your head with useless stuff doesn’t mean so much when anybody can look up anything in an instant.

If they’re going to choose a successful contestant as replacement host, I’d much rather it be James Holzhauer, the professional gambler from Las Vegas with the dry wit and laid-back charm, or Brad Rutter, a self-described slacker in high school who has a quiet dignity not unlike Trebek’s.

That quiet dignity of Trebek’s – his authoritative but unobtrusive presence – has been a big reason so many of us have loved the show. He was there to gently guide the proceedings, not overwhelm us with his dazzling personality. None of us – thank goodness – knew or cared about his presidential preference or opinions on the burning issues of the day.

It has made “Jeopardy!” an island of calm in an otherwise chaotic world, a place to which we could escape from the turmoil of economic uncertainty, social tensions and bitter political differences, a reminder that there is such a thing as normal life in which we can be quietly civilized. 

We need that calm island more than ever these days. We need that familiar, comfortable presence in our lives. We need to slow down for that brief time and let a genial host guide us through a contest of the mind that lets us both learn new things and display the things we have already committed to memory.

Oh, all right. Even in the Google age, being able to know useless stuff and show off about it is still enormous fun. I apologize, Ken.

But you are still irritating.

If you are asked to replace Alex Trebek, I beg of you, consider the legacy at stake and decline the honor. The year 2020 has been awful beyond imagination, and many of us just cannot bear the thought of one more setback.

Don’t ruin “Jeopardy!” for us.

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at leoedits@yahoo.com.


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