- Heartfelt and some heartbreaking homages are paid to a man who was a part of their lives from childhood.
Fans of Jeopardy! all over the world mourned the death of longtime host Alex Trebek on Sunday, Nov.8, when he lost his battle to pancreatic cancer, but one group who shared a particularly special connection – Indian American families – mourned a little louder.
This sentiment aptly summed up by Burt Thakur, a 37-year-old electrical engineer from Palm Springs who won the Nov 5, 2020 Jeopardy! episode and who thought the cameras had stopped rolling when he told Trebek how much the host meant to him and his Indian immigrant family. “My grandfather who raised me … I’m gonna get tears right now … I used to sit on his lap and watch you every day,” Thakur told Trebek in a clip shared by the Jeopardy! Twitter account. “It’s a pretty special moment for me. Thank you very much.”
And when on Sunday, while driving, Thakur got word that 80-year-old Trebek had died, Thakur told LAist that he was so overcome by emotion that he had to pull to the side of the road, and started to cry. “I know people get upset when celebrities die,” Thakur said, adding, “to me, he wasn’t a celebrity. To me, Alex Trebek was just another uncle.”
An emotional Thakur also posted a moving tribute on his Twitter page. “When with proud joy we lift Life’s red wine up to drink deep of the mystic shining cup And ecstasy through all our being leaps — Death bows his head and weeps.”
And as tributes to Trebek flooded the internet Sunday, many from people like Thakur who grew up in immigrant families during the 1980’s and 90’s and learned English from watching Trebek wittily banter with contestants and deliver questions in his precise, rich, dulcet manner.
Said a netizen on Twitter, “This one hurts! As an immigrant child I learned a lot about American pop culture from Trebek and how to properly speak English. I watched a lot of game shows with my family as they learned to speak English through them as well. RIP you beautiful human!”
Over his 36 years of hosting Jeopardy!, Trebek had remained a constant in these lives – long after they mastered English.
Trebek’s death reminded many of them of how he served as a comforting presence through the upheaval of moving to a strange new country. And for some kids in immigrant families, Jeopardy! was one of the few shows they were allowed to watch by their strict parents.
Says a netizen on Twitter, “Mom never let us watch TV growing up unless it was “educational” so we convinced her that Jeopardy! was like the TV test for the encyclopedia pages she made us memorize!”
Swati (last name withheld on request), an Atlanta, GA dentist says with a smile, “Before Google, but after the age of encyclopedias the staid presence of Alex Trebek was a staple in my living room. He brought wit, joy and a renewed sense of optimism to a trivia nerd like me.”
Swati adds, “Perhaps more subtly, Alex and his unlimited categories helped me seamlessly immerse into the American experience.”
Dhruv Gaur, the Jeopardy!contestant who choked up Alex Trebek and anyone who watched the ‘Jeopardy Tournament of Champions’ by writing “We love you Alex!” as his ‘Final Jeopardy’ answer, told American Kahani, “Any person who watches Jeopardy! will feel the loss of Alex Trebek deeply. When you watch the show on TV, he not only hosts the contestants, but he also hosts you, your family, and your friends, through a consistently excellent 30 minutes of game show. If you’re lucky enough to make it on the show, you understand what truly makes Alex Trebek magic.”
A saddened Gaur adds, “To any viewer, Alex is undoubtedly the star of Jeopardy! but as you stand in front of the board, answering questions, he makes you feel like the star. He was smart, witty, sometimes a bit sarcastic, but in the kindest way. He’s hosted countless games, but every day, his utmost priority was to make sure everyone—the staff, the audience, and the contestants—had a wonderful time. Anyone who is a fan of Jeopardy! is a fan of Alex Trebek. He is beloved, and will be so deeply missed!”
The Brown University student, from Gainesville, GA , Gaur had won $100,000 on Jeopardy! which “he spent on tuition and treated 20 friends to dinner.”
Avi Gupta, a Stanford University student, and Portland Oregon teenager, who won the ‘2019 Teen Jeopardy Tournament’ and walked away with $100,000, in his heartfelt commentary in The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Two simple words: facts matter. This statement may seem trivial, but it is the most enduring legacy of Trebek’s 36 years on Jeopardy!”
Gupta continues, “In the 21st century, what is the point of a game show based on memorizing trivia? Why bother spending hours reading classic novels, delving into 20th century pop culture or exploring the lesser-known events of the American Revolution? After all, we now have access to some of the most powerful machines ever created. Our smartphones provide us with unfettered access to the full breadth of human knowledge and expertise. Can’t we just Google any fact we’d ever need to know? The answer is yes, we can, but doing so would be a great disservice. Searching for facts only when they’re immediately required deprives our minds of the time to consider, grow and learn. As we learn more about the world around us, our opinions evolve.”
An emotional Gupta pens in his tribute, “Trebek understood this, and he devoted his career to the promotion of curiosity. Viewers of “Jeopardy!” are encouraged, both literally and figuratively, to ask questions. Every single night for 36 years, Trebek brought a smorgasbord of new topics, ideas and questions to living rooms nationwide. Though Alex Trebek has left us, his legacy endures in the millions of people he has inspired, myself included. I cannot think of a better way to honor him than by continuing to pursue knowledge for its own sake.”
Gupta, whose grandmother would visit from India and now lives with his family in Northwest Portland was a huge fan of American game shows. “But her favorite was ‘Jeopardy!’” I would sit there and watch with her,” Gupta recounts to The Oregonian, after his 2019 victory. Gupta has also donated a portion of his winnings to pancreatic cancer research in Oregon.
“Being on the show had been a dream of mine. My family and I watch Jeopardy! everyday, if we can,” Sharath Narayan (winner Teen Tournament, 2016) told The Madison Record after his win. Calling Trebek an “immeasurable legacy” on Twitter, a saddened Narayan posted about Trebek’s passing, “Thank you to this man who changed my life and the lives of so many people.”
Washington, D.C., resident, Anand Kandaswamy, who works for the Applied Economics Office of the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), a federal research lab that is part of the Department of Commerce, and who had a three-day winning streak on Jeopardy! in 2017 tells American Kahani, “Watching Alex in action was half the fun of being on the show. He is calm and a true pro, reading the answers with true aplomb. His pronunciations were impeccable. He also had a sly and deep sense of humor. After my third game ended, he came up to me and the other two contestants and said to them in jest, ‘You know how you guys could have beaten Anand? You could have found him before the game and beaten the hell out of him.’ As I said, Alex was a funny guy. Hearing him and Johnny Gilbert, Jeopardy’s legendary announcer say my name, is a memory I will always cherish.”
Kandaswamy adds with a touch of sadness, “Being on Jeopardy! was a small but important part of my life and an experience I will always cherish. Rest in peace, Mr. Trebek. You were the best.”
Kandaswamy credits going on the show to his brother Deepak, “a skilled trivia buff himself” who pushed him to take the online test. The brothers grew up watching the show together in suburban Illinois.
Not only contestants but fans far and wide are mourning his passing, wondering who will fill those impossibly big shoes.
Management consultant from New York Vandana Vaidyanathan says, “With a trivia obsessed husband, we’ve spent a fair number of hours watching Alex Trebek over the years. In a culture where generally sports seems extraordinarily valued, I loved how he made geekiness cool and exciting. We will miss him tremendously and I am rooting for Ken Jennings to take his place.”
Similarly, salesforce developer from Georgia, Miraz Agarwal who watches Jeopardy! with her family including her teenage daughter sadly says, “Jeopardy! won’t be Jeopardy! without Alex at the helm. We started watching a while ago and got hooked very quickly. His subtle humor was entertaining. When we heard about his cancer diagnosis we were fervently hoping he would beat it,” adding that her family and she plan to re-watch the “Alex’s favorites” season on Netflix as a tribute to him.
Trebek’s influence spread from the young to the old, members of both groups eagerly waiting to compete from the comfort of their homes. Farzan Bhaucha, a healthcare consultant from Georgia, who grew up in Beaumont, Texas and is a self-professed trivia nerd says, “I was on the quiz team in high school and I loved learning random facts. I used to watch Jeopardy! avidly, always marveling at how fast the participants would press the buzzer. Alex Trebek was my favorite game show host.”
Bharucha adds with a sigh, “I was never good enough to be on Jeopardy! but it would have been a thrill to meet him. His death is a big loss!”
Trebek took over from the show’s original host, Art Fleming, in 1984. He was a bushy haired 44-year-old with a cop’s mustache. And little did he know he was in the perfect position to redefine the American TV-watching experience, imprint beloved memories on millions of families, and change American pop culture forever.
The long-standing success of Jeopardy! — having recently entered its 37th season and still regularly attracting 25 million pairs of eyeballs a week — is owed to Trebek. He turned a simple question-and-answer game show into a high-stakes meeting of the minds.
For five nights a week, for over three decades, Alex Trebek was family — invited into living rooms across the United States as host of Jeopardy! Trebek was one of a kind – a comforting presence who proved being smart was seriously cool. And with his passing, the world of game show hosting is truly feeling the loss.
Following are the Indian-Americans who won on Jeopardy! (sourced from Jeopardy! archives):
Sahir Islam (Season 14, Teen Tournament) – New York
Vinita Kailasnath (Season 18, College Championship) – Stanford University
Papa Chakravarthy (Season 22, Teen Tournament) – Kentucky
Anurag Kashyap (Season 25, Teen Tournament) – California
Vijay Balse (Season 26, Tournament of Champions) – New Jersey
Sharath Narayan (Season 33, Teen Tournament) – Alabama
Dhruv Gaur (Season 34, Tournament of Champions) – Brown University
Avi Gupta (Season 35, Teen Tournament) – Portland Oregon
Nibir Sarma (Season 36, College Championship) – University of Minnesota
Others that deserve honorable mention include:
In 2016, Pranjal Vachaspati from Ohio had a six-day winning streak on Jeopardy!
In February 2017, Viraj Mehta came in third in the College Jeopardy competition.
In November 2017, there were two Indian-Americans in the same show. But Anand Kandaswamy, a three-day winner and Rahul Jain lost on the Nov. 1 show.
Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.