The Answer Is…: Reflections on My Life by Alex Trebek

I read this book a couple weeks ago and was planning to publish my review next week, but with the passing of Alex Trebek today, I offer it up as a tribute to an American television legend.

Alex Trebek is family to many. He came into our homes for more than 35 years as host of one of the most popular shows in television history. I almost called it a game show, but as Alex Trebek made clear in The Answer Is… Reflections on My Life, Jeopardy is not a game show, it’s a quiz show.

From the publisher: Since debuting as the host of Jeopardy! in 1984, Alex Trebek has been something like a family member to millions of television viewers, bringing entertainment and education into their homes five nights a week. Last year, he made the stunning announcement that he had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. What followed was an incredible outpouring of love and kindness. Social media was flooded with messages of support, and the Jeopardy! studio received boxes of cards and letters offering guidance, encouragement, and prayers.

The book combines illuminating personal anecdotes with Trebek’s thoughts on a range of topics, including marriage, parenthood, education, success, spirituality, and philanthropy. Trebek also addresses the questions he gets asked most often by Jeopardy! fans, such as what prompted him to shave his signature mustache, his insights on legendary players like Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer, and his opinion of Will Ferrell’s Saturday Night Live impersonation. The book uses a novel structure inspired by Jeopardy!, with each chapter title in the form of a question, and features dozens of never-before-seen photos that candidly capture Trebek over the years.

As Trebek made clear in The Answer is… , people have been asking him to write a book for the past 30 years. He resisted, until he received for all practical purposes, a death sentence with a diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The outpouring of support he received from around the world prompted him to write this book. “I want people to know a little more about the person they have been cheering on for the past year,” he writes.

Trebek grew up in a coal-mining town in Canada and talked about growing up poor, about his mother and father and sister, Barbara. He bounced around schools, had a 3-day stint in the military, and eventually found his calling in radio with the CBC. Then he transitioned to television.

Eventually Trebek was called to Los Angeles for a chance at a game show. It didn’t last. Neither did the next one. Or the next one. But game show producers like Alex Trebek and kept hiring him for their shows. Finally, Jeopardy came along, and the rest is history.

The Answer Is… Reflections on my Life is a quick and easy read, with short chapters of looking back at his life accompanied by lots of pictures. What struck me the most is that despite the fact that Trebek failed repeatedly at things, he succeeded in a great many things, too. And he always had a positive attitude about it all. He even said any issues he had with his father and sister were long-resolved before their deaths. His positive attitude is infectious, and reading this book, by a guy who was given a terminal cancer diagnosis, was uplifting.

I liked the chapter on Celebrity Jeopardy, because Trebek confirmed the fact that the answers and questions for those games are invariably easier than a regular Jeopardy game. And he said a few winners of Celebrity Jeopardy are bright enough to compete on the regular show. One of those celebrities: none other than Aaron Rodgers, Super Bowl winning quarterback of my Green Bay Packers. He loves the show and kicked ass when he competed.

I also appreciate the amount of humanitarian work Trebek did and the amount of money he gave away. Most of his causes are my causes, especially the USO, which I faithfully give to every year to help support entertainment for troops overseas. Big Bob Hope fan here, so the USO and I go way back, and Trebek had a long history with them as well.

There were no big surprises in The Answer Is… Reflections on my Life, other than the fact that Trebek liked to swear. And I’ll be honest, I’m not a big Jeopardy fan, which is funny because in the 1980’s and beyond, I loved the board game Trivial Pursuit. It’s how my family would spend get-togethers and how my husband and I would spend Saturday nights, listening to Prairie Home Companion and playing the super-successful game. And it’s not because I don’t watch a lot of TV, I watch a lot of movies and TV shows on DVD and streaming services. I’m not sure why I never got into the show. When I did watch I participated with whomever I was watching with. It just wasn’t “must see TV” for me and it has always been on at weird times for me; when I was growing up it was on at 3:30 or 4:30. Now I think it’s on at 6pm, which is when I call it a day and head upstairs to read. The last time I watched was when Aaron Rodgers competed on Celebrity Jeopardy. But I still admired and respected Trebek and the writers of the show for creating “smart” or “educational” quiz show.

If you want to read a celebrity memoir that just makes you feel good, The Answer Is… is it. It would also make a great Christmas gift for any Jeopardy fan.

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