While fans across the country mourn the death of Alex Trebek, longtime host of one of the most popular game shows in television history, former “Jeopardy!” contestants in the Upstate remember a kind, intelligent man who helped make their time on the show everything they had hoped for.
“Starting from when I was a kid, and I was too sick to go to school … I used to watch ‘Jeopardy!’ and just thought it was just like so much fun. And I had the opportunity to actually appear on the show I taped in March of 2016,” says Neil Sondov, 59, of Greer. Sondov says he was fortunate to be on the show when Trebek hosted.
The cherished quizmaster Trebek died Nov. 8 at 80 due to pancreatic cancer. Trebek had several health setbacks over the past several years, according to media reports. He died at his home in Los Angeles, California. Trebek, who hosted the trivia show for 37 years, had continued filming until recently.
Donna Walker, 56, participated in the game show in 2003. As with other “Jeopardy!” contestants, going on the show was a lifelong dream for her. Walker, who lives in Greenville, says that when she went on the show, as she waited in the audience as others were taping, Trebek would come out and do a little crowd warmup.
“Your only interaction with Alex is what you see on TV. When he greets you, and you tell him a little anecdote,” says Walker.
But even if the interactions were brief, they could be impactful. Those who participated say Trebek emphasized intellect for intellect’s sake.
“He often talked about the importance of knowledge and importance of knowledge for young people, with a big emphasis on education,” says Sondov.
For Simpsonville’s Michael Townes, 40, not only did going on “Jeopardy!” in 2013 check off a bucket list item, but he also met his wife who also participated in the show’s Teachers’ Tournament. She broke the news of Trebek’s death to him. “It feels like I lost a beloved uncle,” Towns says.
He says that Trebek’s impact was generational. Townes says his daughter, who watched the show with him, was speechless when she heard the news.
“For me, [going on the show] was a bucket list item. For him, it was Tuesday,” Townes says. “But he never made anybody feel lesser or that they were unimportant because of that.”