Patricia Sheridan's Breakfast With ... Alex Trebek
November 11, 2013 12:00 AM
Paul Hawthorne/Associated Press
Show host Alex Trebek in a reflective moment while a student contestant tapes a promo.The game show "Jeopardy!" was taping its college tournament at the University of Pittsburgh Petersen Events Center in 2004.
By Patricia Sheridan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Here is the answer: Emmy Award-winning game show host extraordinaire. "Who is Alex Trebek?" Right! As host of "Jeopardy!" since 1984, he is privy to an encyclopedic breadth of knowledge. The Canadian-born philosophy major (he has dual citizenship) began his career in broadcast news and found his way to game show hosting. Despite two heart attacks, he is no worse for the wear. The 73-year-old will be one of the celebrity guests aboard the Turner Classic Movies third Classic Cruise also featuring Robert Wagner, Jane Powell and others. The Dec. 8-13 cruise on the Disney Magic departs from Miami. For more information, go to www.TCMcruise.com.
What kind of student were you?
I was a good student -- inquisitive, not quite funny enough to be class clown but liked to kid around a great deal in class.
Reading about your parents, I wondered if they were who drove you.
No, not really. I don't think I can attribute it to my parents. Unless of course you just add that my parents wanted me to have a good education. They didn't push me in any one direction. They were supportive as I would expect most parents to be with their children. My interests were developed by myself, really.
As the host of "Jeopardy!" I imagine you have absorbed a lot of knowledge. Do you find people's expectations of what you know to be overblown?
No, I don't get to experience that too much because people don't approach me that way anymore. They did at the beginning. When "Jeopardy!" first went on the air, I would run into people, strangers, and they would quiz me immediately on different things. After a while that got to be old hat. People just don't do it anymore. I guess they figure I'm fairly bright or I wouldn't be hosting the show the way I do.
I learn a lot by hosting the program, but unless it's something I am really interested in, a subject that fascinates me for some reason, I am not likely to retain that information. My brain is so cluttered now that I don't have room for anything else.
What will your role be on the TCM Cruise next month?
I am going to be introducing one motion picture and I'm going to be conducting three different quizzes. One quiz will have to do with lines from movies, another with music from films, and a third will be a general quiz. A potpourri type of thing.
You have seen a lot of contestants come and go on "Jeopardy!" Do you find yourself rooting for the underdog, the guy that just freezes?
Well, yes, but what we've discovered over the years is that people will not just stand there for the whole show. Eventually, they'll get a category they like and are able to come up with a number of correct responses in that category and that encourages them. So much depends on the category. If they are not your subjects, things that interest you, you are not likely to do as well.
When somebody is not doing too well at the beginning of the show, our contestant coordinators talk to that person in the first commercial break. They say, "Hey, you are OK. You are just ringing in a little too early or you're a little late. Anticipate a little more. Don't be nervous." They have a rehearsal game before we tape the show.
Have the questions become harder over the years? Have they evolved in any way?
Oh, I think they are constantly evolving. We have a lot of pop culture now. But we still have our traditional subjects -- history, geography, science as well as show biz, pop music and things like that. We try to stay ahead of the curve.
What we've done in the past dozen years or so is to try to keep the show fresh by sending our personnel out to different locations all around the world. We've gotten a number of celebrities to do clues for us. The first lady, Mrs. Obama, did a whole category for us. Oprah Winfrey did a category. We got Sandra Day O'Connor, former Supreme Court justice, who did a whole category for us. It brings a new look to the show. It keeps us from aging ungracefully.
When you do step down as host of "Jeopardy!" would you want to stay in television in another capacity?
I have no idea. I don't make those kinds of plans, really. ... An occasional thing, a short-term series, instructional or documentary type -- yes, I might be interested in that.
I read that you once said if you had a talk show you would love to interview the pope. So what do you think of the new Pope Francis?
He is certainly a departure from what we are used to seeing in the past, but appearances are often deceiving. He is, from what I understand, still very much a conservative-thinking pope. Although he says with regard to gay people, let's not be too hard on them, he's not about to change some of the doctrinal approaches that the Roman Catholic Church has pursued for centuries. But you know, he's friendlier than a lot of popes we've had in the past. With regard to the poor people, he wants to help them and reach out to them, which is a good thing.
The theme music for "Jeopardy!" is so catchy. Were there moments at the beginning you couldn't get it out of your head?
No. Never. It doesn't bother me, and it doesn't stay with me. It's not a haunting refrain, if you will, in my existence.
When you're off and just driving around doing what you do for fun, do you ever think up questions for the show?
Oh, sure. I make suggestions to the staff on a number of occasions. Most of the time -- not so much because they think it's a great idea, but I think they are intimidated by me, they don't want to challenge me -- they'll do it. If I don't want to do a clue in a show, they will pull it out. So it's the power of age. I lord my seniority over them.
I read you have not changed your eating habits much after two heart attacks. Aren't you scared?
Scared of what?
I don't know, dying?
Nah. We all die. It's part of life.
So you still love those Snickers bars?
I've been rethinking that. I have mentioned on a number of occasions that my breakfast of champions is a Snickers bar and a Diet Pepsi, but I'm finally coming around to the realization that maybe I should change that. So I'm thinking now of going to a Diet Coke and a Milky Way.
Last question: Is the mustache ever coming back?
Not while I'm hosting "Jeopardy!" I don't think. But who knows? When I get through with this gig I might, just for the fun of it, grow it back again. I can do that, you know. I'm very talented. I can grow a mustache.
Patricia Sheridan: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2613. Follow her on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/pasheridan.
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