Simon & Shuster
Over the past thirty-six years, the television game show “Jeopardy!” has become a cultural phenomenon and an important part of Americana. Even if someone has never watched the show, the jingle and “What is….?” answers are recognizable to all. However, what made “Jeopardy!” so special to longtime fans was always its host: Alex Trebek.
During the thirty-six years from 1984-2020, Trebek transformed from a game show host to a cultural icon. His appeal to many people was based on relatability. For fans who watched his show regularly, Trebek was less of a celebrity and more like a family member over for dinner every weeknight at 7:00 p.m.
In March 2019, Trebek was thrust into the spotlight when he announced that he had been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is known for being one of the most deadly forms of cancer, so the diagnosis came as a shock. After 20 months of battling his disease, Trebek passed away on November 8, 2020.
Anticipating a decline in health, Trebek published an autobiography in July 2020, called “The Answer Is… Reflections on My Life.” As the title suggests, the memoir consists of reflections on his own life, legacy, and place in popular culture.
Despite being one of the most recognizable names in the entertainment industry, Trebek was never comfortable discussing his personal life. In the novel’s introduction, he explains why he almost neglected revealing his cancer diagnosis.
“Basically, I’m a private person, but ultimately, I decided to do so because I wanted to stay ahead of the tabloids,” he said in his autobiography. “I didn’t want them printing or manufacturing all kinds of crap.”
He announced the diagnosis reluctantly, but was surprised by the amount of support he received from the show’s community.
“Upon making the announcement, I quickly discovered that there are millions of people out there who seem to care and who feel I have played an important part in their lives,” Trebek wrote. “I’ve received boxes and boxes of cards and letters from people around the world offering their support, encouragement, advice, and prayers.”
While the author does discuss his work schedule and filming, it is not the focus of the work. This is not a book about “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek; it is a personal narration of “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek’s life. Trebek shares life lessons, his accomplishments, and his mistakes (complete with pictures, of course).
The first half of the autobiography comprises the events of his life. Trebek writes about his parents, friends, and mentors, as well as his first jobs with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and falling in love.
Although this is commonplace in any biography, the information is usually not kept as secretive. In Trebek’s case, being able to tell events firsthand for the first time makes his vignettes much more interesting. One unfortunately commonplace issue in celebrity autobiographies is a lack of original information or reflections. Trebek’s private life helps here, as most of the events he describes have not been known about or been subject to media coverage.
As the book progresses, Trebek moves onto an assortment of topics: his work schedule, popular “Jeopardy!” contestants, and general thoughts on his cancer diagnosis and life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this autobiography being his first and only outing as an author, Trebek demonstrates skill in craft and composition. His musings on life are some of the book’s highlights and most touching moments.
The second half, which I would consider a stronger section than the first, also features one of the most important literary tools: humor. Despite the dejection of someone being on death’s door, Trebek is still able to incorporate small jokes or humorous moments throughout the small tales. In such depressing circumstances, Trebek helps lighten the tension of the novel.
Although the memoir is well-crafted, creative, and touching, it has its flaws. I found myself hitting a wall partially through the first half of the book, mostly due to how condensed the “early life” section was. And although the end works well as a bittersweet goodbye, I felt that some of Trebek’s final words were redundant, making the ending drag on a bit. However, I feel that the stellar composition and complexity is enough to call these flaws nitpicks.
Alex Trebek’s autobiography serves as a reflection on life, an analysis of private fame, and a heartfelt goodbye from one of the most universally respected celebrities. From front to back, “The Answer Is…” features Trebek spilling everything he’s learned from eighty years of life, and we’re there to soak it up.
Updated for accuracy 1/22/21.