In 2012, 12-year-old Andrew Grace found himself in the midst of an Alex Trebek inquisition during “Kids Week” on "Jeopardy!," Grace, who is now a junior at UNC studying biomedical engineering, jumped at the opportunity to be a contestant on the show.
“It was just such a cool thing that people can do anything like that. I was a part of it, which was really cool,” Grace said.
Alex Trebek, the host of "Jeopardy!" for 36 years, died of pancreatic cancer Sunday. Fans of the show, including UNC students, are mourning the loss of the revered game show host by reflecting on his impact.
Grace said Trebek’s kindness to him and all the other contestants is what he will always remember about his "Jeopardy!" experience.
“It hurt because it was arguably the coolest thing I've ever done in my life,” he said. “Everyone knows 'Jeopardy!' and everyone knows Alex Trebek. And I got the opportunity to actually be on the show and actually talk to him and see how much of a genuinely nice person he was.”
Some did not have a tangible experience with Trebek like Grace did — but they felt his influence all the same.
As a young Black girl watching "Jeopardy!" with her family, Kayla McLaurin, a junior studying media and journalism, remembers the excitement she felt while competing against contestants from her living room.
“I always remember being able to get the answers to the questions and being a little brown girl — really excited that I knew some of the answers,” McLaurin said.
McLaurin sees Trebek as a person who encouraged and inspired people to insert themselves into the world of knowledge.
Greear Webb, a sophomore studying political science, recalled gathering around the television to shout out answers before the "Jeopardy!" contestants as a time of decompression for him and his family.
“That family time meant a lot, just having a grounding moment every night to kind of joke and reflect on the day in between trying to get the answers from 'Jeopardy!,'” Webb said.
Webb thinks that "Jeopardy!" is so popular because it connects audiences of all backgrounds to one another.
“It allowed us to expand our knowledge and really grow our understanding of each other and of the events that have shaped the history of the world,” Webb said.
For Mani Senthil, a senior studying computer science and a son of immigrants, Trebek’s duty on "Jeopardy!" to bridge people together went beyond the country's borders.
“It felt international. It felt like it prided itself on knowledge for knowledge’s sake rather than knowledge because America first,” Senthil said.
At 7 p.m. each night, in front of the TV, Senthil said he and his dad bonded the most.
“It was such a special time for me because there weren't a lot of things I could do as a shared activity with my dad, but 'Jeopardy!' was one of the few activities where we could really find our common ground and just share our love for learning,” Senthil said.
He believes his dad was drawn to "Jeopardy!" because it reminded him of his own childhood growing up in India.
“When he was growing up in India, they would have general knowledge competitions and it was different things like math, science, history, geography and all these different things,” Senthil said.
His father was also captivated by Trebek’s spirit and style of speech.
“My dad specifically loved 'Jeopardy!' because of Alex Trebek,” he said. “He loved his persona; he used to tell me, ‘When Alex Trebek is speaking, people listen, and there's a reason for that. And there's a way that he speaks that is very commanding yet respectful, and I want you to learn how to do that.’”
He believes the same spirit that earned Trebek the respect of his father is the one he will be honored for.
“The way that Alex Trebek commanded a room in such a way that he wanted to make sure everybody felt heard,” Senthil said. “And so I think that's the feeling that so many people are resonating with right now.”
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