'Jeopardy!' winners share touching memories of the late Alex Trebek: 'Like a member of my family'


2020 claimed one of the most iconic figures in television history. In November, the legendary "Jeopardy!" host, Alex Trebek, lost his battle to pancreatic cancer.

Two months later, the world is remembering Trebek and the phenomenal impact he had on those around him. CNN asked recent Jeopardy! winners to share their favorite memories of the 60-year game show veteran.

Ryan Hemmel, four-time "Jeopardy!" winner from Los Angeles, California

"My favorite memory from my time on Jeopardy! was Alex's opening message during the Thanksgiving day show, which embodied all of the values that he was about: optimism, compassion and unity. It was an honor to be on the stage as he delivered that statement, and will be one of those things that sticks with me for the rest of my life,” Hemmel told CNN.

“Overall, even though Alex was definitely visibly struggling a bit with his illness, the thing that stood out to me the most was that he clearly genuinely enjoyed hosting the show and wanted to keep doing so as long as he was able to. He was in great spirits during all of my tapings with him, and I consider myself extremely lucky to have gotten the chance to share the stage with such an amazing man."

Carmela Chan, three-time "Jeopardy!" winner from San Diego, California

"Alex Trebek was like a member of my family. One of the earliest television shows I ever remember watching was Jeopardy! No matter what else was happening in the world, he was the one constant that would show up every evening at 7:30," Chan told CNN.

"In every show, it was abundantly clear just how much he cared for knowledge and trivia, and as a viewer, one could instantly tell how much fun he was having on the show. In person, that feeling was magnified a thousandfold."

Chan claimed that in all four shows she participated in, she never got an inkling of the discomfort or pain Trebek must have been going through.

"He took the time to give us all words of encouragement, or even sometimes a mock 'stern' pep talk if we hadn't bet enough. He loved joking around with us, and at the end of my first show, he turned to us and said, 'Gosh, I had fun! I hope you all did too."

"As a contestant and a viewer, I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we have had so much fun watching him over the decades and I can't thank him enough for all the joy that he's brought to our lives."

Kevin Walsh, five-time "Jeopardy!" winner from Williamstown, New Jersey

"I've been a fan of the show for the entirety of his run and Alex is the main reason I came to regard it as a warm and welcoming institution. He struck the perfect tone - erudite, but accessible; winking and wry; and always clearly rooting for the contestants to play boldly and win big. He made it cool to be smart," Walsh told CNN.

"Finally appearing on the show was a dream come true, but interacting with Alex sent it all into the stratosphere. He carried himself and controlled the games so smoothly that you'd never have known he was ill. A consummate professional, but also warm and encouraging. Even when he'd express his disappointment at contestants missing a clue on Canadian geography - as I did - it was with the air of a supportive parent or teacher, admonishing you to do better.”

"The two specific moments I still carry with me are very small, but meaningful to me. During one interview segment, I was able to elicit a chuckle from him and making Alex Trebek laugh felt like winning a game in itself. Second, a few games into my run, I was admonished to rewrite a wager due to poor (nervous) penmanship. Without even looking up from his lectern, Alex offered a wry 'Come on, Kevin, you've been here before."

I know it's goofy, but that gentle ribbing made me feel more a part of Jeopardy! than actually playing the game."

Andy Wood, four-time "Jeopardy!" winner from West Hollywood, California

"Alex Trebek impressed me most with his professionalism when I was taping my episodes. Jeopardy! tapes five episodes a day, which is a pretty grueling schedule, and I'm pretty sure there was only one time in all five of the games I played when Alex had to re-read a single clue, and I think that was only because he didn't love the wording and was making an edit on the fly," Wood told CNN.

"During the tapings he gave no indication that he wasn't 100% healthy. If I hadn't known in advance that he was ill, I wouldn't have guessed it from his performance on the set. During commercial breaks the contestants could overhear a producer talking with Alex and basically saying, 'You know, you don't have to do this...' and letting him know that they could stop at any time if he needed to. But he shrugged that off and insisted that the production continue, only making a lighthearted joke about wishing they could just tape one episode a day."

"In retrospect I'm really impressed with how deftly he handled the post-game chats with all three contestants. Five times a day, he would have to moderate what should be a very uncomfortable conversation between one extremely happy person and two people who are probably not too excited to have just lost to that person, and the grace he showed in doing that for decades is really incredible -- it's something akin to a doctor having good bedside manner."

Kristin Hucek, three-time "Jeopardy!" winner from Burbank, California

"I had been watching Jeopardy! since I was young, so appearing on the show while Alex was still the host was really a dream come true. If pressed, I would have a hard time choosing which event was more memorable: My wedding, which was scheduled for the same week, or my Jeopardy! appearance," Hucek told CNN.

"And of course, the most exciting part of the entire experience was undoubtedly meeting Alex. He is such a cultural icon and an integral part of the show. It was very humbling to see when the cameras started rolling that I was appearing on the 8259th episode of the show, in its 37th season with Alex as the host."

"He was just as kind, engaging, and thoughtful in person as he appears on TV. Given that they tape five shows per day, I was struck by how quickly Alex was able to connect with each group of new contestants that was brought in especially given what we now know about the advanced stage of his illness."

"His dedication and clear passion for his work were inspiring to witness. And though I am sad about his passing and sad for the many contestants and the audience who will not get to experience him hosting anymore, I am glad that he was able to do what he loved right up until the very end. That we all could be so lucky!"

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