This person grew up watching Jeopardy!, dreamed of becoming a contestant one day, even taking several online show tests, and saw Alex Trebek as an example of how a small-town Canadian could thrive in an atmosphere of American giants.
For anyone unfamiliar with the TV quiz show Jeopardy!, the above was an example of how the game was played. Host Alex Trebek would read the clue and contestants had to answer in the form of a question. If you were a fan of the show, you might answer in the same way.
Last week Jeopardy! aired the final episodes with Trebek as host, so I thought it only fitting to be reading his autobiography The Answer Is…Reflections on My Life in the same week.
Only two celebrity deaths have ever made me cry. One was David Bowie and the other was Alex Trebek. Bowie because his music had an enormous impact on my life, and Trebek because he almost felt part of the family.
As a kid, my family watched Jeopardy! every weeknight after dinner. It was a half-hour pause between homework time and my dad clicking through channels for sports or a science fiction show like Star Trek. My mom and sister would chime in with their answers occasionally, but for me and my dad Jeopardy! was serious competition time. We’d keep score with a jar of coins, pulling out a penny whenever we correctly answered. It was one of the few games where I could beat my dad from time to time. Really it all depended on the categories. History, geography, and science were his strongest categories, but for episodes including literature, movies, music, or animal trivia, I could clean house. We even had a video game version of the show to play on the weekend.
When I got older our competitive streaks mellowed out. We remained faithful viewers but put the pennies away and just played for fun. Even now, years after my dad passed away, I often see clues and think ‘oh, dad would have known that one for sure!’
And that’s probably why I bawled like a baby on November 8, 2020 when I heard of Alex Trebek’s death. As a host he was fantastic, but what hit me more was it felt like one more connection I had with my dad was taken away. Plus, the fact they both had cancer was another jab.
But enough about why this author was important to me, let’s get to the book review.
As far as autobiographies go, The Answer Is…Reflections on My Life is somewhat middle of the road – it’s not terrible, but not fantastic either.
After I finished the first few chapters I was a bit astonished by the lackluster presentation of Trebek’s recollections of growing up. The memories included were often brief, chronologically all over the place, and honestly delivered little insight into the author’s life.
Since the book was written during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Trebek was being treated for advanced pancreatic cancer at the time, it seems like there was an editorial rush to publish the book in July 2020, but it would have been better served by polishing up the first half quite a bit.
However, somewhere approaching the second half I really began enjoying this memoir. Perhaps because the memories were closer in Trebek’s mind, or maybe because he had been thinking about his experiences as an adult more, but this section was more contemplative and exactly what I had been looking for in this book.
From lessons on love, to being a generous soul, and how to face soul crushing obstacles, Trebek shares his insights on leaving this world a kinder, gentler place than the one we were born into. He candidly discusses his cancer diagnosis, the prospect of hospice care, and his confidence that Jeopardy! will continue along just fine after he’s gone. Ever humble, he politely rejected the concept that he was the star of the show and preferred to be recognized for shining a light on the brilliant contestants.
Two other things I really enjoyed were Trebek’s touches of humour throughout and the inclusion of several photographs from different periods in his life. As a whole, the book feels like an afternoon chat with your favourite uncle, and that’s the type of reading experience I was hoping for.
The last few chapters were particularly touching as he expressed his peace about a life well lived and even facing death remained an eternal optimist. So, while The Answer Is…Reflections on My Life may not be one of the best autobiographies, I still found it insightful and would recommend it to anyone looking for a splash of hope in uncertain times.
My Rating: 4 Stars out of 5 (Yes, my rating is most certainly biased because of my love for Jeopardy!)