2 former contestants reflect on Trebek, ‘Jeopardy!’
Cherokee Nation citizen Greg Buzzard, of Tulsa, was a contestant on the game show “Jeopardy!” in August 2013. Here he stands with the show’s late hose, Alex Trebek, who died of cancer on Nov. 8, 2020. COURTESY
Cherokee Nation citizen Lenzy Krehbiel Burton, of Tulsa, appeared on the popular game show “Jeopardy!” April 2-3, 2007. Here she stands with the show’s late hose, Alex Trebek, who died of cancer on Nov. 8, 2020. COURTESY
TULSA – Two former contestants of the game show “Jeopardy!” are reflecting on their time on the show and the show’s late host, Alex Trebek.
Cherokee Nation citizen Lenzy Krehbiel Burton, of Tulsa, appeared on the game show April 2-3, 2007.
“I taped my episodes in January 2007. My winnings from those two episodes made it possible for me to finish my master’s degree debt free,” she said. “Thanks in part to the legacy of the quiz show scandals from the 1950s, our interactions with Alex Trebek were largely limited to when we were on stage. However, he was very kind, engaging and patient with us when we were up there.”
She recalled for her first episode the “Final Jeopardy!” answer was “What is the USS Missouri?” The show features a quiz competition in which contestants are presented with general knowledge clues in the form of answers and must phrase their responses in question form.
“We were told during the break to be as specific as possible. I knew what they were going for and where it was, but I blanked on the ship’s name,” she said.
She “blanked” even though her grandfather was part of the security detail in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri.
“My late grandfather teased me about it until the day he died,” she said.
Trebek went public with his pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2019. He hosted the show until Oct. 29, 2020. He died Nov. 8. The show’s final episodes will air through Dec. 25.
“It still feels so cruel that he went out in a year that has seen so many high-profile deaths due to pancreatic cancer,” she said. “I had a lot of respect for him before I went on the show and still do. It’s hard not to when the man stayed behind the ‘Jeopardy!’ podium for more than 35 years.”
CN citizen Greg Buzzard, of Tulsa, was a contestant in August 2013. His two episodes aired Oct. 11 and Oct. 14, 2013. During two days of competition he won $26,000.
To qualify as a “Jeopardy!” contestant Buzzard registered for an online test on the show’s website. He said he had only eight seconds to answer each question in a 50-question test.
“If you score above a certain number, you’re qualified to attend an in-person audition. At that audition, you take another test and you play a mock round of ‘Jeopardy!’ for the contestant coordinators,” he said.
After being accepted, he traveled to Culver City, California, to compete.
“The other contestants and I were very star struck by Alex during our filming sessions, but he was very kind and welcoming,” Buzzard said. “After so many years of hosting ‘Jeopardy!,’ I’m sure he knew how nervous we were. The filming process goes by so fast – it doesn’t take much more than 30 minutes to film each episode – but he nevertheless took time to speak with each of us. Alex was a true professional who had the process of hosting ‘Jeopardy!’ down to a science.”
Buzzard said crew members were responsible for ensuring contestants felt welcome and comfortable.
“‘Jeopardy!’ contestants obviously tend to be shy, nerdy types – not the kind of people who usually get on TV,” he said. “So the contestant coordinators are very upbeat, over-the-top, Hollywood types who have the interesting job of making sure the dorks don’t have a meltdown on camera in front of Alex. They were so warm and open, definitely one of the highlights of being on the show. I felt so much less nervous after working with them. It takes a lot of behind the scenes work to make the show happen, even just so far as making sure the contestants perform well.”
Buzzard appeared on the show the autumn after he graduated college. He had moved to New York City and was starting a job.
“I was pretty broke. So winning $26,000 was a huge deal for me. I was able to pay off my student loans from college, which was a huge help,” he said. “I also wrote about the experience of being on ‘Jeopardy!’ and winning all that money in an extra open-ended 250-word essay required for my application to Yale Law School. While I can’t know for sure, I think the essay was a big part of why I got into Yale, which has very much changed my professional trajectory.”
Buzzard said Trebek’s death is “a profound loss” not just for “Jeopardy!” but for America. “We’re a very divided nation these days and ‘Jeopardy!’ is one of the increasingly few common cultural references we all share. I think you can see that in the universal mourning for Alex since he passed. Whoever takes on the host job on ‘Jeopardy!’ will have some big shoes to fill. My deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends.”