It’s hard to believe we’re coming up on the third anniversary of Alex Trebek’s death. The Jeopardy! icon — one of the all-time best game show hosts — passed away on November 8, 2020, after battling pancreatic cancer, but he was a professional to the end. In fact, a recent contestant on the classic quiz show can attest to that fact personally, as Yoshie Hill was one of the players on Trebek’s final show. She returned to the Alex Trebek Stage last week for the Champions Wildcard Tournament, and her recollection of Trebek’s “remarkable” last episode had quite an impact on current host Ken Jennings.
Jeopardy! is currently running its first Champions Wildcard Tournament, which features winners from Seasons 37 and 38 competing for a spot in this season’s Tournament of Champions. That means that some of these contestants originally competed when Alex Trebek was still the host. Yoshie Hill was a two-day champion going into the episode that aired January 8, 2021, and she recalled Trebek’s energy and professionalism, telling Ken Jennings during the October 26 game:
LIttle did we know that was going to be Alex’s last show. I was on the stage and it was remarkable for a man who actually was very, very sick standing that [indicates Ken Jennings] close to me. He looked so good, I never would have known. And he had so much energy and focus, and with each contestant, it must have taken a tremendous amount of effort to maintain that level of professionalism on that day.
It’s heartbreaking to think of how much pain Alex Trebek was actually in on what would be his final day of taping, but he didn’t let the contestants or the audience down, remaining fully engaged when the cameras were rolling. He died just 10 days later.
Ken Jennings was visibly affected by Yoshie Hill’s story, as he himself has recalled his final conversation with Alex Trebek just days before he passed away. Jennings got choked up as he concurred with Yoshie Hill, saying:
He was not in good health backstage, but he would come out here and he could do the show. This was the place where he felt confident and on top of things, and I’m so glad he had that so late in his life.
Ken Jennings seemed to pause for the briefest of moments to collect himself, before summoning some of the professionalism of his predecessor and turning the players’ attention back to the board to resume the game. You can watch the emotional video below:
Ken Jennings took over for Alex Trebek — something Trebek had apparently been thinking about for quite a while — after his death, and then a revolving door of celebrities were brought in as an audition of sorts. Following some hosting controversy and the eventual ouster of executive producer Mike Richards, Jennings was brought back as a co-host to share duties with Mayim Bialik.
Ken Jennings has been the man behind the lectern so far for Season 40, after Mayim Bialik left Season 39 early amid the WGA writer’s strike. It’s unknown when she’ll make her Jeopardy! return, but she has started to appear in the promos, so it could be sooner than later. Check your local listings to see when syndicated episodes play in your area, and tune into Celebrity Jeopardy!, which airs at 8 p.m. ET Wednesdays on ABC.