Ken Jennings shared why he cherished his time with Alex Trebek

By Joelle Goldstein
March 07, 2019 06:30 PM
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After Alex Trebek announced his devastating cancer diagnosis, Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings is reflecting on his time with the beloved game show host.

On Wednesday, Jennings, who has the longest winning streak on the game show, spoke to Vulture about his highly-regarded relationship with Trebek and his most cherished memories with him.

The interview came shortly after the longtime Jeopardy! host, 78, told the show’s fanbase that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and vowed to courageously “fight” the disease while continuing to work on the game show.

“I’m crazy about Alex,” Jennings, 44, told the outlet of his relationship with Trebek. “He’s the epitome of the old-school broadcaster to me, maybe he’s even the last man standing. To have been able to meet him in person and then hang out that whole summer with him was a major life highlight for me. To watch the master at work, you know?”

Jennings added, “It’s that aura of reassuring authority he possesses that I just love.”

Jennings went on to recall a time where he and Trebek shared a special moment after he had lost the final question to Brad Rutter during a Jeopardy! Battle of the Decades tournament in 2014.

Alex Trebek and Ken Jennings
Jeopardy Productions via Getty Images

“I went into the afterparty a little bit shell-shocked. As Alex was on his way out, he walked by me and I just wanted to say, ‘Hi, thank you,’ and how much he meant to me,” he explained. “So I said, ‘Alex, I don’t know what to say.’ I literally couldn’t say anything from my mouth.”

“He just looked at me with that reassuring, avuncular gaze and put a hand on my shoulder and went, ‘I know, I know.’ Like, ‘We’re men, you don’t have to say how much me and Jeopardy! mean to you, I understand what you mean.’ And then he walked out of the party,” Jennings continued.

“It was just a perfect moment,” he added. “That’s a guy who really understands what Jeopardy! has meant to us all these years.”

Alex Trebek
Kris Connor/Getty

In the video message on Wednesday, Trebek told the show’s fanbase that he has “a longtime policy of being open and transparent” and that he wanted to prevent fans from “reading or hearing some overblown or inaccurate reports regarding my health.”

Despite the grave diagnosis, Trebek shared that he must continue working because of the terms of his contract through the 2021-22 season.

“Truth told, I have to because under the terms of my contract, I have to host Jeopardy! for three more years! So help me!” he joked.

“Keep the faith and we’ll win,” Trebek concluded, “We’ll get it done. Thank you.”

Immediately after the somber announcement, Jennings showed his support for Trebek on Twitter.

“I’ve said this before but Alex Trebek is in a way the last Cronkite: authoritative, reassuring TV voice you hear every night, almost to the point of ritual,” he wrote in his first tweet.

“One thing I know for a fact: Alex is very aware of how much he means to millions of people, and how we will be pulling for him…I hope that’s a comfort,” Jennings said in a separate message.

In a third note, Jennings jokingly added, “And I hope some very good L.A. oncologists are getting ready to have their mispronunciations corrected.”

Jennings wasn’t the only Jeopardy! contestant impacted by Trebek’s devastating diagnosis.

Rutter, who is the highest-earning contestant on Jeopardy! and the highest-earning American game show contestant of all time, also shared his thoughts on the situation in a tweet, affectionately referring to Trebek as “Uncle Alex.”

“Oh my God. If anyone can beat this, you can. Sending heartfelt good thoughts and best wishes for a speedy and full recovery. We love you, Uncle Alex!” he said.

Joining the men was Buzzy Cohen, the 2017 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions winner, who explained how much of an impact Trebek has had on his life in just a few short years.

“My heart sinks. Few things have changed the course of my life the way this man and this show has. As I’ve come to know him there is nothing but love, respect, and admiration. Alex your whole jeopardy family is behind you. #TheRealJeopardyAllStar,” he wrote.

Roger Craig, who held the record for highest single-day winnings on Jeopardy!, also sent well-wishes to Trebek.

“Was devastated to hear this yesterday,” he tweeted. “Thoughts and prayers go out to Alex, his family, and everyone at Jeopardy!”