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The Answer Is...: Reflections on My Life

Review

The Answer Is...: Reflections on My Life

I have been watching “Jeopardy!” since Art Fleming was the host. I even took the online test, trying to win an audition spot, alas to no avail.

I think I can say without fear of contradiction that Alex Trebek, who took over the long-running program when it was revived in 1984, is the most popular game show host in television history. But unlike some, such as the late Regis Philbin and Richard Dawson, he was never one for the limelight.

Since his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer last year, though, Trebek has been thrust into that limelight. (Who knew he once conducted a symphony orchestra? Or that he is part of a classic comedy moment on ”Cheers”?)

"Trebek has been forthright in offering his thoughts on his illness, which ultimately led to this autobiography. Like the man himself, the story is informative yet humble."

The 80-year-old Trebek has been forthright in offering his thoughts on his illness, which ultimately led to this autobiography. Like the man himself, the story is informative yet humble.

THE ANSWER IS… follows the usual formula for the genre: family background, childhood, education, etc. Trebek handles this with gentle humor (or humour, as he, a Canadian, might write). He doesn’t brag, hates name-dropping and pays respects to all those who helped him along the way, as well as a number of “Jeopardy!” contestants --- perhaps none so touching as his chapter on Cindy Stowell, who suffered from stage IV colon cancer while she was appearing on the show.

I’m sure there are plenty of contestants who rubbed Trebek the wrong way, such as Arthur Chu, whose style of play flew in the face of what used to be established strategy (but then again, so did James Holzhauer, about whom Trebek does write). There is no dirt-dishing and no complaints about any bumps along the way to his amazing career.

Of course, as iconic as that career has been --- he holds the Guinness record for longest tenure as host of a single game show, as well as a trophy room’s worth of Emmys --- I wonder if his story would have the same interest and impact if not for his disease. Kudos to him for his vulnerability. He is brutally, heartbreakingly frank about his mortality and dealing with his pain: physical, emotional and spiritual.

“There are moments when I have some regrets about having gone public with my diagnosis,” he says in the chapter “What Is… Toughness?” (each chapter comports to the standard "Jeopardy!" clue format). “Because I have become in many ways the de facto spokesperson for pancreatic cancer, there are a lot of expectations, a lot of people looking to me for reassurance. I feel a lot of pressure to always be tough --- to be stoic and show a stiff upper lip. But I’m a goddamn wuss. I start to cry for no reason at all. I have no idea what sets it off, and it embarrasses me.”

There is no need to be embarrassed. If you can’t be honest when facing your own demise, when can you be?

Trebek talks about making his final decisions after all attempts have been exhausted. He knows it’s not a matter of if, but when. And when the time inevitably comes --- not for several comfortable years, let’s hope --- he undoubtedly will be remembered as a champion, like many of the “Jeopardy!” players he has seen come and go over the years.

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on July 31, 2020

The Answer Is...: Reflections on My Life
by Alex Trebek

  • Publication Date: July 21, 2020
  • Genres: Autobiography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1982157992
  • ISBN-13: 9781982157999