Alex Trebek on Jeopardy. (Courtesy of CBS Television Distribution)

The Trivia King: A great Canadian

In the midst of all the tumult, I wish to acknowledge the passage of Alex Trebek, who more than any other person I know only from TV was like an old friend.

In fact, Alex Trebek was the only person I know only from TV who was like an old friend.

I first remember Alex Trebek from Stars On Ice, a 1970s CTV variety show on skates featuring Toller Cranston. Alex was the host. I believe I am the only person in the world who remembers Stars On Ice, even though it was widely syndicated around the world.

Why was I watching Stars On Ice? Because there was nothing else on. I only vaguely remember Toller Cranston, but I sure remember Alex Trebek, mustache and all, and his warm relaxed presence.

He was already a veteran presenter, with such Canadian shows as Reach For The Top. He seemed quite comfortable hosting a show like Stars On Ice. He did that until 1980.

His move to the U.S.,into what would be a Hall of Fame game show host career, coincided with my ceasing to watch any TV at all for several years.

When I returned to watching TV, two things had happened. Jeopardy, starring Alex Trebek, had hit the airwaves (1984) and the board game Trivial Pursuits (released 1981) had been released. Suddenly, Trivia (with a Capital t) was King, and I had finally, finally, found the perfect expression for my unsatisfied mind — the collection of factoids, and trivia contests.

To me, trivia is the acme of the refined human intellect, the ultimate purpose for our highly evolved brains. And for more than 35 years, Alex Trebek was trivia’s grand master.

But much more than that: Alex Trebek showed how to best be Canadian working in the U.S. After all, if you want to rise to the top in television, Los Angeles is where you will end up. But Alex Trebek never seemed to lose that sense of Canadianness that we can all identify with; his laid-back nature jibed perfectly with the calm atmosphere of Jeopardy — so unlike the frenetic pace of other shows. Jeopardy was an intellectual show for everyone, and while Alex Trebek was in command of the material, he was never lofty or professorial. Every Jeopardy show always contained at least one Canadian content clue, and in the tributes to Alex Trebek in the world’s media, many note that he never lost his Canadian accent. That point fills me with pride.

Alex Trebek became the quintessential Canadian making it big in the States — something we Canadians dwell upon a lot.

But more than that, the show he hosted was something we could all imagine being on. Allow me to speak for you all, just this once. No one ever daydreams about being on Hollywood Squares. But we all think, from time to time: “What if I were on Jeopardy? How would I do?”

For years, I have agonized over being on Jeopardy, not over whether I would win or lose (though I like to think I would win hundreds of thousands), but what little story I could tell Alex Trebek in the meet-the-contestants-and-banter portion of the show. Nothing too exciting, nor too revealing, just an amusing little story that takes 10 seconds to tell, that Alex Trebek could respond to with some gentle wit, and that the studio audience could chuckle along with.

Well, after years of wracking my brains, I thought of the perfect Jeopardy banter anecdote. And in honour of the late, great Alex Trebek, I would like to tell him that story, and put my Jeopardy dreams — and thus my Trivia dreams — to rest as well:

One night I came home in the dark, and tripped over an animal that had found its way into a forgotten garbage bag by the back door. Thinking it was the household cat, I tried to pick it up with my hands as it went scurrying away. Then the motion detector light came on, I saw it was a skunk, fleeing from me, its tail lifted high, its hindquarters aimed in my direction. I shrieked in alarm, but then it vanished into the night. I want to believe it didn’t spray me because it sensed I was kind.

Rest in peace, Alex Trebek.