- - Tuesday, July 28, 2020

To millions of television viewers, Alex Trebek is the genial host of the long-running quiz show “Jeopardy!” Night after night he reads answers to which eager and knowledgeable contestants provide the questions in hopes of winning large sums of cash. Mr. Trebek does all he can to shine the spotlight on the contestants.

Throughout the 36-season run of “Jeopardy!” Mr. Trebek has been widely admired for the way he runs the show and has hardly been mentioned in salacious Hollywood tabloids. In 2019, Mr. Trebek was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. In a video message to “Jeopardy!” fans, he admitted that the odds were not good. More than a year later, Mr. Trebek is still with us and still hosting “Jeopardy!” (until recently when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down production).

Following a tremendous outpouring of support, and coinciding with his 80th birthday on July 21, Alex Trebek has written a new memoir, “The Answer Is … Reflections on My Life.” Mr. Trebek notes that, for years, he has rejected offers to write a book. With “The Answer Is,” “Jeopardy!” fans have received a book that has been worth the wait.

It is hardly a typical memoir in narrative style. Each chapter is a question “Who is so and so’” or “What is such and such.” Through these questions and answers Mr. Trebek recounts his early years in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada (known as the Nickel Capital of the World), his student days at the University of Ottawa and his early broadcasting career with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Mr. Trebek gives plenty of backstage information on “Jeopardy!”, including how he was hired to host the show, his thoughts on dominant champions Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer, and his opinion of Will Ferrell’s impersonation of him on “Saturday Night Live.” 

Several weeks after “Jeopardy!” premiered, one of the executives from the company distributing the show to stations across the country told Mr. Trebek that the material was too difficult, and audiences were not relating to it. He asked Mr. Trebek to make the material easier. Mr. Trebek said he would. What the distributor did not realize was that there were already two months of shows that had been recorded. The next time Mr. Trebek saw him, he asked how he liked the easier material. The distributor said it was great, even though the material had not been changed.

The author deftly avoids partisan politics and states he has voted for both Democrats and Republicans. In the chapter on philanthropy, he mentions that he established a charitable foundation to better determine how his charitable funds are disbursed.

Readers will also discover new facts about the “Jeopardy!” host. For example, after he was divorced from his from his first wife, he bought a house across the street from her and he and his second wife of 30 years, Jean, and their children have all maintained a close relationship. Mr. Trebek devotes a brief chapter to his favorite animal, the musk ox. He explains that the male musk oxen surround all of the cows and calves with their horns pointed outward. In doing so, the group is impenetrable by packs of wolves. This imagery, he says, affected him on a gut level.

One of the most unusual facts readers learn is that Mr. Trebek once unknowingly ate a plate of hash brownies. He is also not shy about using profanity.

“The Answer Is” can be read in an entire evening. It will certainly be appealing to “Jeopardy!” fans, but its publication during the coronavirus pandemic offers a sense of calm. There are no sermons or moralizing or self-help buzz words. Its strength lies in the human connection the author establishes with the reader, and its offer of hope and inspiration.

• Kevin P. McVicker is a partner of Shirley & McVicker Public Affairs in Alexandria, Va.

• • •


By Alex Trebek

Simon & Schuster, $26, 304 pages

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