I am pretty sure I’ve had Alex Trebek wrong this entire time.
Of course, I’ve been aware of the long-time host of one of America’s most beloved game shows. He’s helmed the venerable quiz show since 1984. He’s officially shot more episodes of “Jeopardy!” Than Bob Barker did of “The Price is Right”.
And in all that time he’s always seemed to me rather buttoned up and proper, sort of a middle-management dad meets college professor.
I had no idea how much moxie was lurking behind that wry smile and measured delivery. Here’s what I know now:
Moxie is super chill.
Turns out the buttoned-up exterior is a façade. Lurking just beneath the surface is a rather impulsive prankster who doesn’t take himself too seriously.
For years Trebek sported a trademark mustache. Until one day, it was just suddenly gone. On a whim, he decided to just shave it off. In a world where public personalities focus group nearly every decision, there were no discussions with producers or agents or even his wife. Trebek just up and decided to shave off his mustache one day while he was backstage getting ready.
Actually, to be entirely accurate, he only shaved off half of his mustache. Then he turned up in front of his producer and said, “What do you think?” The producer sent him back to shave off the other half.
But the mustache isn’t even my favorite Trebek prank.
He overheard contestants discussing how nervous they were, and overheard them joking about easing the tension by competing sans pants. No one would be the wiser with them standing behind those big podiums, they were joking. It was an absurd idea, and good for a laugh.
Imagine their surprise when Trebek strolled onto the set with just his boxers peeking out from beneath his jacket, tie and freshly starched and pressed shirt. You don’t even have to imagine, because there’s video.
Trebek has every right to be a bit starchy himself. He presides over the brainiest show on television. And yet, he’s perfectly willing to throw caution to the wind and act a bit silly. That takes moxie.
Moxie brings out the best in everyone.
There’s a method to Trebek’s madness. His tomfoolery is a tool. His goal is to bring the best out of everyone around him.
When asked how he would like to be remembered (one of my favorite questions) Trebek said this:
“He was a nice guy and that he was the best kind of quiz show host in that he always seemed to be rooting for the contestants. He wanted them to perform at their best because if they did, that would make the show a success and he would be able to enjoy the success of the program in that regard.”
It takes moxie to realize that success is not a zero-sum game. When others succeed, we succeed, too. Trebek fully embraces that truth, and it’s on display for all the world to see.
Moxie knows when to say goodbye.
Last year Trebek received the devastating news that he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Survival rates for this type of cancer are very low, and treatment is very difficult.
Despite the challenges, Trebek has carried on with his hosting duties. To all but the most observant fan, his performance has been spot on.
Ken Jennings, a favorite contestant who has appeared in this week’s Greatest of All Time tournament, has watched Trebek up close and personal, and he sees how much work the host puts into making it look effortless.
“The chemo is rough, but he can always just turn it on,” Jennings said. “The music came on, the lights came on, he would just stride out there and nail that show like nobody else. It was exciting to see him doing so well and taking that diagnosis so bravely. To me, he’s the last of that kind of old-school broadcasters, and it’s such a pleasure to watch.”
It’s that professionalism which will lead him to step down when the time is right, Trebek says. When his health begins impacting his performance or the show’s quality, he’ll retire.
He plans to go without much fanfare. Much as he shaved his mustache on a whim, he plans to simply approach his producers and let them know this is it, and today’s his last day. All he asks is for 30 seconds at the end of the show to say goodbye.
When that sad day comes, what do you think Trebek say?