Trebek may retire: Chicago-area Jeopardy contestants ponder the show’s future

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Shannan Younger appears with Alex Trebek. | Photo courtesy of Shannan Younger

What is: next?

Chicago-area Jeopardy contestants fondly remembered their appearances alongside longtime host Alex Trebek and pondered the quiz show’s future Tuesday after Trebek said he was considering retirement at the end of his current contract term in 2020.

Recent competitors almost inevitably grew up with Trebek on Jeopardy, which he hosted since 1984. In person, they found him professional and personable.

“I’ve grown up knowing him as the host. Then you see him there, [and] he’s so polished, its almost surreal,” said Ana Palmer, a librarian at Glenbrook North High School.

Jeopardy’s five-show-a-day filming schedule meant contestants had little one-on-one time with Trebeck, but he still managed to leave an impression.

He quizzed Brandon Brooks, a game show aficionado from the Bowmanville neighborhood, on the theme music for “The Wizard of Odds,” Trebek’s first quiz show (Brooks knew it).

During a break in the filming of Naperville writer Shannan Younger’s March 2018 appearance he adopted an Irish brogue and called her “Shannan, my darling.”

At his 2011 appearance, Brookfield native Edgar Mihelic told Trebek he had to grow back his then-recently shaved mustache.

“He looked at me straight in the eyes and said ‘not a chance,’ ” Mihelic said.

Trebek invited speculation over the show’s future leadership in his announcement, surprising a play-by-play announcer for the Los Angeles Kings and a lawyer and legal pundit on MSNBC by dropping their names as potential hosts.

Contestants said they were confident that the show’s staff and crew would be able to lead it forward.

“[Trebek’s retirement means] losing a giant, but he’s leaving it in very capable hands,” said Colby Burnett, who won the show’s Teachers Tournament in 2012 and Tournament of Champions in 2013.

Brooks was confident the game would survive Trebek’s tenure, just as it survived Art Fleming, its host in the ’60s and ’70s. Brooks said he would like to see Jeopardy’s first female host as Trebek’s successor. His candidate: Meredith Vieira, a television journalist and the host of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire from 2002 to 2013.

Michael Wille, in a lighter vein, suggested that President Donald Trump, an established game show host, could leave office to replace Trebek — bringing, he admitted, a different energy to the show. Mark Ashton, who appeared on Jeopardy twice this year, put forward Buzzy Cohen, the up-tempo winner of last year’s Tournament of Champions.

“He is sort of funny, and a loud personality. But I think he would be engaging and good at the job. … It would take the show in a slightly different direction, but not so much that it would alienate the viewers,” Ashton said.

Wille and Palmer saw a silver lining in the prospect of Trebek’s departure. At the end of their run, contestants are generally banned from reappearing on the show — a ban they hope might lapse with the change in hosts.

“I would go back again and do it in a heartbeat. I enjoyed it a lot, and it went way too fast,” Palmer said.

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