Back in the days when I had nothing to fear (a true sign of straight, white, male privilege), I used to joke that I was afraid the Alex Trebek was a secret dumb-dumb. It wasn't true, of course, as Mr Trebek, who we lost to pancreatic cancer, took the same qualifying test that Jeopardy contestants take. The conventional wisdom is that television dumbs viewers down, but that is an unfair categorization of Mr Trebek's show. While Jeopardy might not have imparted an overview of particle physics to its viewers, it did spark intellectual curiosity- it was the sort of show which would send you to the bookshelf to look up Lake Baikal in an atlas. Jeopardy also loomed so large over the Trivia Gameshow Industrial Complex that other gameshows often feature disclaimers that answers don't have to be phrased as questions.
I could joke about how Canada-born Trebek was a sinister exemplar of the secret Canadians that lurk among us, virtually undetectable among the throngs of America, but the only sinister thing the man did was a rather funny, self-deprecating cameo on The X-Files:
By all accounts, Alex Trebek was a kind and decent man. I myself may have been sent to the bookshelf to crack the encyclopedia or atlas after watching Jeopardy, but others have had truly profound reminiscences of the show:
That's not an ordinary television viewing experience, and no, I don't have tears in my eyes. While some television viewing is a waste of time, Alex Trebek's show actually made its fans better, a little smarter about a lot of things. It fired curiosity, cajoled its viewers into digging for deeper understanding of the world after gleaning bits of trivia. Sure, Alex Trebek's sometimes exaggerated pronunciation of names like Lake Titicaca will never not be funny, any jokes I made about the man were purely affectionate. I was a fan from day one, I admire the manner in which he confronted his own mortality, and I am genuinely bummed out that he is no longer among us, quizzing us about the world, tweaking our brains to seek out knowledge. In a world in which learning is deprecated and expertise suspect, Alex Trebek was an unfailing champion of information, and losing him at this particular moment in history is upsetting.