Book Review – The answer is… by Alex Trebek


Exactly 30 years ago, I got to live the bookworm’s dream when I went to Los Angeles for the first time to participate as a contestant on the hit TV game show “Jeopardy”.

The nearly year-long experience — from the contestant search test I took in Montreal, to the taping of the show in Hollywood, to when it finally aired on TV — was an unforgettable one. And when it was all said and done, I was constantly peppered with three types of questions: how did you do in the game, what did you win, and what is Alex Trebek really like in person?

My answer to the third question was always the same. Alex was a nice guy with a good sense of humour and somehow had a special deference to contestants from Canada (in fact, he only spoke to me when the three contestants stood with Alex at the end of the show when the closing credits rolled, all because of my Canadian background).

During its 36 years on the air so far as one of the most popular TV shows in syndication, “Jeopardy” is not only a hit with millions of viewers because of the unique characteristics of the returning champions (not to mention their vast abilities with factual knowledge and winning large sums of cash as a result), but also because of the magnetic personality of its Canadian-born host Alex Trebek. 

Faithful “Jeopardy” viewers always want to know more about Alex; however, he chooses what he wants to divulge with the viewers about Alex Trebek, the person behind all those daily doubles, Clue Crew clues and answers phrased in the form of questions.

And now, Jeopardy fans can find out more about its dynamic host with the recent release of his book The Answer Is…

However, this was a book that Trebek was at first reluctant to write, and constantly turned down any publishers’ proposals to write a memoir. As he stated in the introduction: “I’ve had no interest whatsoever. I didn’t think I had anything pertinent to say to the world. And my life was not particularly exciting.”

After reading his book, Trebek has proved himself wrong. He does have an interesting life; he does have an interesting career in broadcasting; and he does have an interesting story to tell about his life.

This is basically a collection of brief autobiographical reflections that focuses on Trebek’s life and career, from his upbringing in Sudbury and Toronto, his early days in broadcasting with the CBC, the other game shows he hosted prior to Jeopardy (including The $128,000 Question, which I auditioned for back in 1977), his humanitarian work with World Vision, and the beliefs that play a major role in his private and public life.

And Jeopardy fans won’t be disappointed, as Trebek offers plenty of behind the scenes stories  of his 36 years hosting the show from what a typical taping day is like for him, how the answers and questions are prepared, to the monumental moment he decided to shave off his trademark moustache, to his reflections on some of Jeopardy’s greatest champions such as Frank Spangenberg, James Holzhauer, Cindy Stowell (who won six games while suffering from stage IV colon cancer) and of course, Ken Jennings, whose 72-game winning streak is an all-time Jeopardy contestant record (which Trebek admitted was a bit of a problem, because he ran out of questions to ask Ken during the contestant interview segment).

Then there are the chapters that deal with his ongoing battle with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, which he was diagnosed with last year. Trebek writes about this very challenging part of his life with a great deal of honesty, humility and courage, as he expresses how he deals with chemotherapy, the widespread encouragement and support he has been receiving, and even the Jeopardy category that it inspired called “The Medical File of Alex Trebek”.

The Answer Is…. gives readers a complete, entertaining portrait of one of the most recognized faces on TV during the past four decades whose life and career was actually quite interesting to learn about, let alone read about. Not bad for a person who has spent 36 seasons giving out answers to contestants who have to furnish him with the questions. It could make for an intriguing future category on Jeopardy. Should I phrase that in the form of a question?

By: Stuart Nulman – [email protected]

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