Alex Trebek is celebrating his 30th year as host of Jeopardy! this year, and despite rumours, he has no firm retirement plans. In an age of gross-out reality shows, Trebek and Jeopardy! both remain this: What is classic? In Toronto to promote the show, Trebek, 72, sat down with The Globe and Mail’s Dave McGinn to discuss the show’s longevity and what his Jeopardy! anecdote would be.
What’s the key to being a good host?
Understand your role in the success of the program. Your role is to provide the best possible way for the contestants to do well. In some sense, you’re a traffic cop, but in others, you’re a booster.
Do you think your personality has been right for Jeopardy!
I’ve been told that many times, and on a personal level I think my personality suits a show like Jeopardy!
People must think you know everything. How often do people try to test your knowledge?
Very seldom. They did in the first couple of years of Jeopardy! It didn’t bother me. I was lucky enough to know the correct responses to a lot of the questions they were throwing my way. Now, no one challenges me. They understand that the material is prepared by writers. I think people think I’m fairly bright. I’m not a genius, but I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.
What would you like to do after Jeopardy!
I don’t know. I don’t make those kinds of plans. Based on what’s happening here, my wife likes Toronto, I could retire, come back to Toronto, maybe run for public office of one kind or another.
You had a heart attack in 2007 and another in 2012. How is your health now?
Fine. I had an EKG a few months back and my heart has healed itself from the last heart attack.
Contestants on Jeopardy! always tell an anecdote about themselves during the show, a small story that illuminates who they are. What would your Jeopardy! anecdote be?
My anecdote would probably be that I plan good family vacations. I just took the family to Vancouver and then up to Alaska on a cruise. A year ago I took them to Antarctica. I’ve taken them on the Yangtze River, I’ve taken them up the Nile. Kids like it when I plan vacations because they usually turn out to be good trips.
Do you think about retirement?
I’ve thought about it on a number of occasions, but I haven’t made any definite plans or definite decisions.
Could anyone replace you?
Sure. All of us are replaceable. While the person who replaces me might not be readily accepted by the viewers initially, in a very short time he or she would win them over.
What do you think of the current crop of game shows?
We don’t embarrass our contestants. We’re not out to demean our participants. I’m sometimes amazed at how willing people are to subject themselves to all kinds of indignities in order to achieve their 15 minutes of fame.
Why do you think Jeopardy! has succeeded the way it has, and why do you think you have succeeded the way you have?
I think I’m a nice person and I am perceived by the viewers as being a nice person who is on the side of the contestants, and who genuinely wants the contestants to succeed. The show succeeds because we’re all very competitive. We want to know how we compare to other people in terms of intelligence, and Jeopardy! provides you with an opportunity to do that.
This interview has been condensed and edited.