Published May 29, 2012
Let's take "Breakfast" for $500: An Oh Henry! chocolate bar and a Diet Pepsi.
And here's the question: What did Alex Trebek consume a couple of hours before this breakfast interview?
"When I say `the Breakfast of Champions,' I'm serious," the Canada native jokes as he orders just coffee.
A morning routine of candy and cola might not seem strange for someone other than Trebek. But for 28 years as host of "Jeopardy!" he's blended likeability with an air of erudition and correctness. He's seemingly not the sort of guy who, at 71, might choose a wakeup menu better suited to a child whose mother's back is turned.
Trebek acknowledges the apparent contradiction and is happy to cite another.
"People say, `You look to be in great shape for your age,' and I guess I am," he allows -- "except that I keep breaking things."
There's the Achilles tendon, which he tore last July chasing a woman who invaded his San Francisco hotel room and took several items.
"It's been nine months, and it still kills me when I walk," Trebek says. "And I'm constantly injuring myself. Doing work around the house, you don't notice when you injure yourself. An hour later you say, `Geez, I'm bleeding. How did that happen?"'
In person, Trebek is leading-man handsome in a natty gray suit, a model of calm and control, the perfect steward of TV's answer-and-question institution.
He is in New York to receive a Peabody Award for electronic media, as "Jeopardy!" joins other awardees that include serious documentaries, edgy comedies and high-toned dramas.
"We're in some prestigious company," Trebek says. "But I think what makes `Jeopardy!' special is that, among all the quiz and game shows out there, ours tends to encourage learning. A lot of the stuff is trivia, but maybe a subject will come up that will arouse the viewers' curiosity and they'll want to find out more. We tell you it's OK to be bright, to know a lot of things and to want to learn."
"Jeopardy!" averages 9 million daily viewers for three contestants who confront the game board with its half-dozen categories, each with answers demanding the right question.
A few weeks ago, Trebek was quoted as saying he was thinking of retiring, with the explanation, "30 years has a nice ring to it."
Now he chuckles at the uproar he caused. What's so surprising that, after 50 years in the business and 71 birthdays, he might consider calling it quits?
"Saying that I've THOUGHT about it doesn't mean that I'm DOING it," he says.
Trebek's path to "Jeopardy!" began in Canada, where he graduated from the University of Ottawa with a degree in philosophy.
The job he got, by chance, was at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., which after graduation led to a full-time position as announcer, newsman and on-air host.
In 1973, he headed to Los Angeles and quickly landed the host job on a new NBC daytime game show, "Wizard of Odds." Other game shows followed, sometimes more than one at a time: Even after winning the host job at "Jeopardy!" when it made its syndicated bow in 1984, he hosted two other game shows, "Concentration" and "To Tell the Truth."
"My job," he says, "is to provide the atmosphere and assistance to the contestants to get them to perform at their very best. And if I'm successful doing that, I will be perceived as a nice guy and the audience will think of me as being a bit of a star."
The production schedule calls for him to shoot five shows in a day, two days a week. On those mornings, he receives the day's cache of 305 answers and questions, which he says takes roughly two hours for him to review.
And after 28 years and some 300,000-and-counting questions, he still loves doing it.
"What's not to love? You have the security of a familiar environment, a familiar format, but you have the excitement of new clues and new contestants on every program. You can't beat that! It's like saying, `I'm married but every day I have a new wife coming in.' You know?" He pauses. Then, invoking his wife of a quarter-century, Jean, he sheepishly concedes, "That analogy's not quite right."
For Trebek, who says his current contract runs out next season, his decision to exit "will not happen as the result of a great deal of thought beforehand. I'm just gonna come out and tell our director to leave an extra 25 or 30 seconds at the end of the game, that I want to say something.
"And I'll just say, `That's it. Thank you. Goodbye."'
No questions asked.