“Simply the best.”
“Jeopardy!” honored late host Alex Trebek on his final episode hosting the show with a 90-second video montage showcasing his best vintage moments, infamous contestant quips and that megawatt smile through the years, set to Peter Allen’s “Once Before I Go.”
Friday marked the day fans have been dreading: the culmination of the last week of episodes Trebek filmed before he died on Nov. 8 at age 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. On Twitter leading up to the final episode, “Jeopardy!” loyalists have tweeted a flurry of crying emojis, noting they were not prepared for their final time with the beloved, witty and snarky but polished host who has been the game show’s shining light since 1984. The final week of episodes was scheduled to air during the week of Christmas, but Sony pushed them back so fans could have more time to enjoy their final moments with Trebek.
But for the beloved host of “America’s Favorite Quiz Show” gone too soon, there truly is never a good time to say goodbye — although his memory lives on forever in his many epic moments.
“Jeopardy!” producer Sony Pictures Television said the special tribute would honor “the life and work of the man who captained [‘Jeopardy!’] with skill, style, and sophistication for 36+ years,” according to a statement released by the company.
The tribute was slated to air at the end of the show, before the credits, but was released early. It included funny moments from the show, including Trebek dressed as Kiss’ Gene Simmons and the Statue of Liberty, some of his most notorious quips with contestants and even vintage footage from his earliest days — with a mustache — on “Jeopardy!” 37 years ago. The tribute concluded with Trebek saying, “So long,” many times over the years — as he always did — and a dedication to Trebek: “Forever in our Hearts, Always our Inspiration.”
Paying their respects
Famous contestants also paid their respects to Trebek ahead of his final episode.
“After more than thirty-six years and 8,200+ shows, Alex Trebek’s last game of ‘Jeopardy!’ airs today. That’s more Tonight Shows than Carson did, three times as many Daily Shows as Jon Stewart,” wrote all-time winner and new interim guest host Ken Jennings. “Alex was always a familiar TV face, but it was so gratifying during the last years of his life to see him universally recognized as the national treasure (or bi-national treasure!) that he was. We’re always going to miss him. Thanks for everything, Alex.”
“I’m still not ready to say goodbye to Alex Trebek, but I will try,” James Holzhauer, the third-highest-earning contestant, wrote on Twitter. “It’s easy to forget that ‘Jeopardy!’ is basically ‘Let’s watch these three strangers take a GED test, except they have to pretend THEY’RE asking US the questions because reasons’. Alex made that concept into the biggest thing on TV, into a lifelong dream for prospective contestants. Only one person could have pulled that off, and he did it through sickness and health every weekday for my entire life. I feel very grateful for the time we had together — not just in the studio but also in my living room, where he’s felt like a member of the family for 30+ years.”
He concluded: “So long, old friend. The ‘Jeopardy!’ music will always bring a tear to my eye.”
“I got to tell a man I’d never met how much of an impact he had on my life, and got to thank him,” Thakur wrote.
His final goodbye
Trebek has said he would need but a mere 30 seconds to give his final sign-off message to fans, who have watched him grace the screen as a calming but witty force on the fast-paced game show in over 8,200 episodes.
“I will say my goodbyes and I will tell people, ‘Don’t ask me who’s going to replace me because I have no say whatsoever. But I’m sure that if you give them the same love and attention and respect that you have shown me … then they will be a success and the show will continue being a success,’ ” he said in January 2020. “And until we meet again, God bless you and goodbye.”
However, Trebek never got to record his goodbye, according to The Wrap, since his “passing was so sudden that he never had a chance to say what he had prepared.”
Monday’s message served as his final goodbye.
In that episode — the first to air from his final week of filming in late October — Trebek delivered his own powerful message about togetherness.
“You’ll recall that about a month ago, I asked all of you to take a moment to give thanks for all of the blessings that you enjoy in your lives,” the host — who is survived by his wife, Jean Currivan Trebek, and two children — said. “Now, today, a different kind of message. This is the season of giving. I know you want to be generous with your family, your friends, your loved ones.”
He continued: “But today, I’d like you to go one step further. I’d like you to open up your hands and open up your hearts to those who are still suffering because of COVID-19. People who are suffering through no fault of their own. We’re trying to build a gentler, kinder society, and if we all pitch in — just a little bit — we’re gonna get there.”
Mike Richards, the game show’s executive producer, told NBC’s “Today” show that the impromptu monologue viewers watched Monday night gave the crew chills — and they immediately erupted into applause behind-the-scenes on the set.
“In this very special, unbelievable final week, he comes out and gives a talk about the importance of togetherness and sticking together and that the world is struggling but that we have to get through it together,” said Richards. “We had chills. There are specific moments in ‘Jeopardy!’ when you clap, and then there are moments when you are quiet. There’s not that many people in the studio because of COVID, and we all burst into applause. We were so moved that we had to applaud.”
‘He was in enormous pain’
In the same “Today” interview, Richards also revealed that Trebek, who first announced his cancer diagnosis in March 2019, was hospitalized the week before the last batch of episodes were filmed. His last day of filming was Oct. 29, 2020 — just 10 days before he passed.
“He was an absolute warrior,” Richards told “Today.” “And what he was able to do by getting himself back to the set to tape those final episodes … it was Herculean. He was in enormous pain, he was 10 days away from passing away, and you will not sense any of that in these episodes.”
Trebek also insisted that the final week of tapings not be canceled, Richards said, despite his hospitalization.
“He calls me and he says, ‘Mike, I’m going to be fine. I’ll be in to tape. I was able to eat Jell-O today,’ ” Richards recalled. “And I went, ‘Alex, that’s great, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be ready to host five episodes of a game show, which is an enormous amount of effort.’ And he said, ‘Do not cancel. I will be there.’ ”
And there he was. Trebek, who said he would carry out his hosting duties “as long as my skills do not diminish,” did not falter Friday, with the show operating like business as usual.
A permanent replacement has not been put forth by distributor CBS Television and producer Sony Television, but there has been plenty of speculation as to who will take over the job. For now, there will be interim hosts on a rotating basis, including the likes of champ Ken Jennings and even Katie Couric. Fans have long expected Jennings, 46, to be the natural successor, even going so far as to say he’s been groomed for the job over the years. He even recently pre-apologized for “insensitive” tweets in his past, fueling rumors even further.
Trebek, though, has only given producers some light suggestions as to who he thinks can host the show after him — a tough act to follow. While he’s been mum about his gentle recommendations, his cheekiness — no, not the time he showed up on set without pants — that fans have long adored was on full display when he put forth one name in particular.
“When people ask me who I’d like to see replace me, I say, ‘Well, it’s probably going to be a woman, and she’ll have to be bright, she’ll have to have a good sense of humor…’,” he once told TVLine. “Uhhhh, let’s see…. Betty White! Betty White is my choice.”
“I joke with the audience all the time,” he once said, “and I say, ‘Betty White,’ because they want somebody younger, somebody funnier.”