Warning: This story contains spoilers.
It’s the end of an era, after the final episode of Jeopardy! hosted by Alex Trebek aired Friday.
Trebek, who died of pancreatic cancer on Nov. 8, signed off with a simple message: “And thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for spending the time with us. We’ll see you again next week.”
Viewers saw Jim Gilligan, an assistant professor of English education originally from New York City, win his first game, with a final total of $24,401. He was just ahead of California native and executive assistant Yoshie Hill, who had won the previous two games, when they answered the “Final Jeopardy!” clue in the category of “Women & Science.” Both got it right, but only he wagered any money.
None of this was the focus of the show, however. On Friday — and for the last several weeks — the focus was Trebek. He had hosted Jeopardy! since 1984 and continued to do so after announcing his cancer diagnosis in March 2019. He even worked through his treatments, filming 10 days before his death. There were enough episodes in the can for the show to air them through mid-December. Viewers then watched two weeks of Trebek’s best episodes before the final five games he hosted were broadcast.
On the TV icon’s final episode, Jeopardy! paid tribute to him with a montage of his most personable moments over the years. Audiences saw Trebek making a joke, catching himself flubbing a line — the latter of which happened very rarely — and even walking into the studio without pants, as Peter Allen’s poignant song “Once Before I Go” played in the background. It ended with cuts of Trebek saying “So long!” over the years, then walking offstage. Then, a message: “Dedicated to Alex Trebek, Forever in our Hearts, Always our Inspiration.”
Jeopardy! champ-turned-consulting producer Ken Jennings was one of the many who took to social media to note Trebek’s final appearance.
Alex was always a familiar TV face, but it was so gratifying during the last years of his life to see him universally recognized as the national treasure (or bi-national treasure!) that he was. We're always going to miss him. Thanks for everything, Alex.
— Ken Jennings (@KenJennings) January 8, 2021
So long, old friend. The Jeopardy music will always bring a tear to my eye.
— James Holzhauer (@James_Holzhauer) January 8, 2021
As I sit here waiting for Alex Trebek’s last episode of @Jeopardy I can’t help but wish I was watching with My Mom, Dad and Grandma reminiscing and crying all together. He brought joy every night into our home and we’ll miss him terribly. pic.twitter.com/xDiQHD9kEr
— Josh Macuga (@JoshMacuga) January 9, 2021
I just called my dad after watching Alex Trebek’s final Jeopardy! episode and he was honestly sobbing. We watched Jeopardy together every night together growing up, and now we play the Alexa game every night after the show on the phone together
— Jessica Taylor (@JessicaTaylor) January 9, 2021
36+ years after Alex Trebek started keeping me company every day after grade school, I’ll sadly watch his last ever episode of JEOPARDY! now. What an incredible run.
— Rear Admiral (@RearAdBsBlog) January 9, 2021
— Courtney Theriault (@cspotweet) January 9, 2021
A final goodbye to the legendary Alex Trebek, he will be so missed!
— Max Lewis (@MaxLewisTV) January 9, 2021
The show announced in November that, once Trebek’s final episodes had aired, a slate of interim hosts would take the show’s reins, starting with Jennings. Katie Couric will also be part of the lineup. No word yet on a permanent host.
Trebek had always insisted that the key to being a successful game show host was to make the contestants, and not the host, the center of attention. However, he did take the spotlight for a touching moment on Monday’s pre-recorded episode when he asked viewers to open their hearts to those suffering from the coronavirus.
“I’d like you to open up your hands and open up your hearts to those who are still suffering because of COVID-19,” Trebek said at the top of the episode. “People who are suffering through no fault of their own. We’re trying to build a gentler, kinder society and if we all pitch in — just a little bit — we’re going to get there.”
Mike Richards, the executive producer for Jeopardy!, was wowed by his performance in those final few tapings. After all, the 80-year-old was undergoing chemotherapy, which is brutal on anyone.
“He was an absolute warrior,” Richards told Today’s Savannah Guthrie on Jan. 4. “And what he was able to do by giving himself back to the set, to tape those final episodes… we didn’t know it was going to be his final episodes and neither did he. But it was herculean. He was in enormous pain.”
As Richards had promised, Trebek was as professional as ever as he signed off.
And Gilligan confirmed that it didn’t just appear that way on TV.
“Even though his health was not great and we all knew that, he didn’t use it as an excuse,” the contestant told the Deseret News. “He was there 100 percent. We got Alex. If I could be as enthusiastic and as vivacious and as classy as he is when I turn 80, I’ll be happy.”
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