Jeopardy! Kicks Off Alex Trebek's Final Week of Episodes with Touching Message from Late Host

"We're trying to build a gentler, kinder society. If we all pitch in just a little bit, we're going to get there," Alex Trebek said

Jeopardy! is kicking off its final farewell to beloved late host Alex Trebek.

During Monday's episode of the long-running game show — the first of Trebek's last five episodes — the longtime series star shared an important and touching message with audiences.

"You will recall about a month ago, I asked all of you to take a moment and give thanks for all of the blessings that you enjoy in your lives," began Trebek, who taped his last episodes in October.

"Now, today a different kind of message. This is the season of giving. I know you want to be generous with your family, with your friends, your loved ones, but today I'd like you to go one step further," he continued. "I'd like you to open up your hands and open up your hearts to those who are still suffering because of COVID-19. People who are suffering through no fault of their own. We're trying to build a gentler, kinder society. If we all pitch in just a little bit, we're going to get there."

Trebek died on Nov. 8 at age 80 after suffering from stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

His final episode was originally set air on Christmas Day, but was delayed "in order to give his millions of fans a chance to see his final appearances," the show said in a press release previously obtained by PEOPLE.

Alex Trebek Kicks Off Jeopardy! Season 37
Alex Trebek. Jeopardy!/YouTube

In an interview with Today on Monday, Jeopardy! executive producer Mike Richards reflected on Trebek's final days in the studio, calling the late host "an absolute warrior."

"What he was able to do by getting himself back to the set to tape those final episodes, and we didn't know it was going to be his final episodes and neither did he, but it was herculean," said Richards, 45.

Richards also said that while Trebek "was in enormous pain" during his final episodes, fans "will not sense any of that" when they tune in. "He is strong, he sounds great, he is funny and he's amazing," Richards said of Trebek.

He also discussed Trebek's decision to return to the studio despite being in the hospital the week prior, saying, "I think there was a level of professionalism. He really understood the importance of the show and what it meant to people. He made being smart cool, and I think that was all of those things for him."

Alex Trebek
Alex Trebek. Eric McCandless via Getty Images
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According to Richards, when Trebek delivered the emotional monologue, it led the entire crew to "burst into applause" on set.

"In this very special unbelievable final week, he comes out and gives a talk about the importance of togetherness and sticking together and that the world is struggling, but that we have to get through it together," said Richards. "We had chills. There are specific moments in Jeopardy! when you clap, and then there are moments when you are quiet. There's not that many people in the studio because of COVID, and we all burst into applause. We were so moved that we had to applaud."

Beginning Jan. 11, a rotation of familiar faces will take over Trebek's position for now, including champion Ken Jennings and other members of the Jeopardy! family.

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And according to Richards, Trebek decided before his death to leave the decision of naming his permanent replacement in the show's hands.

"He had mentioned a couple of names but he wanted to stay out of that and he knew that we would do a good job looking for people and that we would find someone," Richards said. "No one was going to replace him and he knew that. As humble as he was, he knew there was no chance of that. And that it's someone smart and incredible that loves the show, that's what he wanted."

Jeopardy! airs weekdays (check local listings).

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