In 2014, Alex Trebek eclipsed the Guinness record for hosting a game show with his 6,829th appearance. He’s been coming into our living rooms for over three decades. No wonder we think we know the handsome, debonair, and sometimes intimidating host of Jeopardy! The show brought him fame along with an impressive collection of awards, including four Emmys. Off screen, Trebek has found a different kind of enduring success in his marriage to his second wife, Jean, who is a trained spiritual counselor. Two kids and 25 years together seem to have provided the couple’s correct answers.
I’ve known Alex for a long time and while I love to watch him lead contestants through their paces, I’ve seen sides of him other than the persona he projects on TV. That’s probably because, as he told me, “the trick for success for shows like mine is don’t get in the way of the game or the contestants. The focus must never be on you, or the audience will turn against you.”
Jeanne Wolf: What should fans of Jeopardy! know about off-the-set Alex?
Alex Trebek: I’m not going to dispel the notion of viewers that I am this brilliant human being. But the truth is, if I were a contestant I could never get my hand on the button in time. Maybe fans should know I like to fix things around the house when they break and I shop at Home Depot. They should know I am highly competitive, but more with myself than others. I’m always trying to better myself. I try to read more. When I was a kid, I would read and get so excited I just couldn’t wait to get to the next page. Reading a book can provide a level of enjoyment that television can’t seem to do on a regular basis.
JW: On Jeopardy!, you literally hold the answers. Were there times bringing up your son and daughter when you wished you had a pack of cards with the answers to how to be a good parent?
AT: No, I didn’t run into that. My kids figured that dad would know the answer, and most of the time I did.
JW: You speak with great admiration about your wife, Jean. What makes you thrive as a couple?
AT: Viewers of the show have told me that over the past 20 years I have mellowed as a host. My wife has helped to soften me. I try to be more understanding when players make mistakes, to ease the blow for them. I think that’s the main change that my wife has brought about in me. She’s more in tune with the spiritual side of our personalities. I’m not. She says I am, but I deny it. People ask me what guides me. There’s an old saying, I think it’s by Goethe, “If you can dream it, do it, because there is power and glory in doing.” I think that’s it. Dream all you want, but get off your duff and make the effort. Otherwise you could wind up regretting, and no one likes regret. Take a chance and do it. What’s the worst that could happen to you?
Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now