This week, ABC is broadcasting Jeopardy! on network television for the first time in 30 years. The special primetime tournament is called “The Greatest of All Time” and it features the three biggest money winners in the show’s 55-year history: Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, and James Holzhauer. And while it’s exciting to watch them compete, it is also a special tournament for longtime host Alex Trebek, who was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer last March, though he tells the 2020 Television Critics Association winter press tour that he isn’t saying goodbye just yet.
“I don’t see [my goodbye] coming up any time in the near future … thinking about retiring and retiring are two different things,” he says. “We’ll see what happens. I’ve said this many times, as long as I feel my skills have not diminished too much and as long as I’m enjoying spending time with bright people … then I’ll continue doing it.”
Here’s what else Trebek and the three “Greatest of All Time” contestants had to say about the game show host’s legacy.
Alex Trebek Reflects on His Legacy
“Jeopardy has not only been part of America’s television life for so long, it’s been part of my television life for a long time also,” Trebek tells the 2020 Television Critics Association winter press tour audience.
“When you think of 36 years, more than half my life has been spent hosting this program. … It’s a significant event in my television career and it’s coming quite a bit into my television career, so the progression has been kind of nice … from my point of view, [the Greatest of All Time tournament] doesn’t get any better than this.”
He adds, “This tournament would not have been possible were it not for James’ appearance on our program,” says Trebek. “There was never a third candidate, if you will, that we could put in against Ken and Brad and make it plausible. And now all of a sudden this is great television. It’s made for television. It’s a competition that people have been looking forward to for a long time.”
A Health Update
“Some days are better than others,” says Trebek. “My resistance is lower than most of you, of course, because of the treatments I’ve been having … they’ve got me off one of my chemo drugs, which was killing me, and I won’t know ’til tomorrow [when] I go in for some tests, and it’ll be another week or so before I know where things stand. I have good days and bad days.”
He goes on to say that after he saw the edited episodes of “Greatest of All Time,” he asked his wife, , if she noticed anything about the way he was hosting and she said she didn’t notice anything — but he did.
“I noticed I was a little slower in some of the ad-lib portions … I feel I was not having one of my best weeks. Some weeks are good, some weeks are bad, but hey, comes with the territory,” says Trebek, adding that when it’s time to go on stage, he doesn’t feel as bad as he may have been feeling earlier that day.
“For some reason, I can suck it up when Johnny [Gilbert] introduces me. It doesn’t matter how I’m feeling backstage or in my dressing room. It’s just showtime.”
The Contestants Reflect on Trebek’s Legacy
Along with Trebek and executive producer Harry Friedman, the three “Greatest of All Time” contestants were on hand at the TCA panel and they had nothing but kind words for the longtime host.
“It’s very special for us because we know Alex has been with the show for 36 years … hard for us to even imagine [another host],” says Jennings. “If anyone’s irreplaceable on TV, it’s this guy right here. And the fact that we got to play with him one more time was very special. You wonder how he’s doing and you get there and he’s Alex Trebek, he doesn’t fumble a word.”
He adds, “For little kids who love the show, he symbolizes learning and knowledge to now what is a second or third generation of North Americans. It’s touching.”
“He’s not going to be hosting the show forever, so it’s made it that much more special to come and see him watch him do his thing,” says Rutter. “He’s absolutely the best who’s ever done it. He’s very modest … but we all know, there wouldn’t be any Jeopardy! without Alex and it’s always special to be around him … this guy, no matter what he’s going through, over the years, he just keeps getting better and better.”
Holzhauer adds that Trebek symbolizes “goodness.”
“Can you name someone who’s been in Hollywood for 60 years and hasn’t had any kind of even minor scandal?” says Holzhauer.
“There’s still time,” deadpans Trebek.
Trebek Talks About His Goodbye
“I haven’t worked on it at all. I have just made a decision, and I made this decision a long time ago, what I would do. It was the same as when I shaved my mustache. I will do it on a whim,” says Trebek, adding that he’ll just decide one day that it’s his last day and he’ll just need 30 seconds at the end of the show to say goodbye.
He also says that he hopes the legacy he leaves when he retires is that he’s been an “influence for good.”
“I hope I’ve been an influence for good and the benefits for not minimizing the importance of knowledge in one’s life … even though you are not going to use a particular bit of knowledge, information that you acquire, even though you are not going to be able to use it in your daily life or your work life, it becomes part of you and it enriches you and makes you a better human being and, I think, a more understanding human being,” says Trebek. “The more you know, the easier it will be to understand everything else that is going on in the world. If you have limited knowledge, then you’re approaching other people from a limited point of view and that can be disastrous, as we have discovered.”
As mentioned above, Trebek says he’s not retiring anytime in the immediate future, but when he is done, what does he want to do with his retirement?
“Drink,” Trebek deadpans again.
Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time is currently airing weeknights at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.