Every evening at seven sharp, the Jeopardy! theme song fills the space of thousands of living rooms. American families gather around the television, ready to shout answers at the screen as if the host Alex Trebek himself would praise their response and add to their total earnings. While regular programming can at times feel like something to simply be watched—in some cases, streamed for seasons at a time—Jeopardy! is something to be experienced, something comfortingly routine, something to enjoy without having to leave your couch.
And just as the theme song became the soundtrack to our weeknight evenings, Trebek became our favorite teacher.
On Sunday, Nov. 8, news broke that Trebek died peacefully among family and friends at the age of 80 after openly fighting pancreatic cancer since March of 2019. This news has taken a devastating toll not only on trivia lovers and avid watchers of the program, but also anyone who used to watch an episode at their grandparents’ house, or who remember the first time they shouted the right answer in a room full of their friends. Celebrities have flooded social media with condolences, sharing their own personal attachment to the host.
What makes this news so devastating is that it's much more than the loss of a game show host—Trebek turned everyday knowledge into a prize. When an infinite pool of information can be accessed with the click of a button, Trebek made topics such as classic literature, popular culture, or medical terminology something valuable in more than the monetary sense. The ability to recall that random fact about the 1912 presidential election you learned in U.S. History became a prized skill. Learning transformed into pure, unfiltered entertainment, and Trebek’s warm yet dry humor along the way ensured it was never unenjoyable.
Not only this, but Trebek brought a sense of normalcy to our daily lives. Entering adulthood accompanies a daunting lack of identity, or extreme doubts about the future your life may follow—but one consistency was knowing Trebek would be on your screen, prompting you to ask questions about jazz music or geography. It was as if you were walking into your favorite teacher’s classroom and could, for a brief half hour, truly have fun during your hectic schedule.
In 2020 alone, increasing socioeconomic tensions coupled with a global pandemic have deeply destroyed the nation’s hope for a regular reality. When Jeopardy! finally aired a new episode following its pause in light of COVID–19, the entire country breathed a sigh of relief to have something consistent once again. Trebek himself had said, “I’m excited because it gets me out of the house. It gives me something to do on a regular basis, and I was missing that.” The current prerecorded season will continue to air, and his final episode will premiere on Christmas Day, as if it were his final present to us all in a career that did nothing but give others something to enjoy.
And now, Trebek will be extraordinarily missed. He was not a celebrity to be idolized from a distance, or a character in a world far, far away. He was on our couch with us, teaching us that we should enjoy showing off, we should love the mistakes and incorrect Final Jeopardy answers. Trebek taught us the most valuable lesson to grow up with: how to fall in love with learning.