My Afternoon With Alex

The charming and erudite host of Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek, is surprisingly sardonic off camera. The studio audience—about 100 split between members of the general public on the left side of the theater, friends and family of the contestants on the right—had plenty of opportunity to ask him questions during down times between segments, sampling his slightly snarky sense of humor.

I got in the first question, a technique I used as a reporter, knowing that even at a major press conference there is often a reluctance to ask the first question. So I prepared my question in advance, rehearsed it mentally and was ready to go when Trebek asked for questions from the audience.

I asked if he'd ever been a game show contestant; if he would ever be a contestant on Jeopardy! before he retires; and how did he think he'd do as a Jeopardy! contestant.

He said he'd been a contestant on a few game shows, but would not be a contestant on Jeopardy! because then someone else would have to host the show, and "he might be better than I am." How would he do as a Jeopardy! contestant? Trebek said he would probably do well against his "peers." Then, looking directly at me, he said, "I see by your white hair that you might be one of my peers. I would crush you!"

A middle-aged man in the mostly middle-aged audience asked, "How do you pronounce all those foreign words?" Trebek answered with overemphasized, drawn out speech: "W-i-t-h M-y M-o-u-t-h."

I also talked to crisp-toned announcer Johnny Gilbert, asking how many tapings per day the winners do. He said they tape five shows a day. For Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings to win seventy-four consecutive games, he had to win five games in a row, then get up the next morning and go win another five games. Whew indeed! The show tapes Tuesdays and Wednesdays, three weeks a month, nine months a year.

Gilbert introduced two of the three Clue Crew members who were at the taping—Sarah and Jimmy. When the pair stood up and waved to the audience, I saw that Jimmy was wearing a maroon hoodie with "HARVARD" emblazoned on the front in big letters. Yeah, OK. You're smart.

A Few Candid Moments

A fortyish woman asked Trebek what his favorite karaoke song was. He replied, "My favorite karaoke song?" then turned his head to the side and pretended to spit on the floor, saying: "I hate karaoke."

Another audience member asked him what he thought about rap music. As he began to criticize it, he seemed to pause and take a quick scan of the audience, then said he disliked most of it because of the bad language and negative references, adding that he thought it was a bad influence on youth. "Not all of it is bad, but most of it," he said, apparently not wishing to condemn the entire black youth culture.

Surprise! Trebek Doesn't Know Everything

When one of the contestants incorrectly answered "era" instead of "eon" in response to a science question requiring a three-letter word with two vowels, Trebek told the young man that "era" was not a scientific term. One of the fact checkers disagreed.

(Era can be generic, such as the era of horse and buggy, or scientific, such as the Paleozoic era.)

Trebek seemed to think "era" had only a generic meaning. But after the fact checker disagreed, he walked over to the front of the stage where a semicircle of fact checkers are located in a pit behind computer screens and telephones, and picked up one of their dictionaries. He seemed genuinely interested in making sure he had the correct information, although the staff photographer who took candid photos during the taping of the show moved quickly into position to take a few shots of Trebek studiously peering into the dictionary. He lingered just long enough to ensure a good publicity shot.

Trebek Is 73

When asked what books he's read, Trebek said he reads a lot of nonfiction, "political stuff," and also likes novelist "John . . ." and then couldn't think of the author's last name until an audience member called out: "Grisham." Then he mentioned finishing a book during a recent trip, but could not remember what it was. "It'll come to me," he said. It didn't.

So even the sharp-witted Trebek, adjudicator of all knowledge, cannot escape the symptoms of an aging mind. Or perhaps it was just overload, considering all the data that had passed through his brain by the last taping of the day. It was the fifth and last show during a day in which he'd already articulated 264 questions with but a very few misspeaks. Is this reassuring to those of us who worry about occasional memory loss? I don't know, but I'm gonna keep playing.

(Written March 2014)

~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Those Who Would Be Dictators


In my quest to become a wise and enlightened being, I listen to the words of others. I seek the truths of our existences. And there is no shortage of those who claim to possess these truths. There is no shortage of those who have developed methodologies, philosophies, theologies, psychologies – rules for living. Their rules for living.

 Yet, is it not true that so many of the horrors of humankind are perpetrated by those who would be dictators, whose visions must never be questioned? So they portray themselves as merely the humble servants of God, of Allah, of the Sacred Writings, of The Public Welfare. That is all the justification they need to enforce subservience and to exterminate those who disagree.

Even in the evolving democracies of the world, in the United States, are we not surrounded by little dictators working hard to impose their vision of the truth upon us all? Consider how many books have been published in which the chosen few hand down small tablets of truth about our lives, small tablets of truth which they have received from on high. The questions of the heart and mind have all been solved, by them.

Isn’t American democracy rooted in the idea that each of us must be free to discover our own truths – spiritual and otherwise – about the lives we lead? Why, then, do we continue to revere and respect those who oppose free and unfettered thought?

To do good works is praiseworthy. To be charitable to those in need is kind. To help the ignorant discover the value of ethical, moral behavior is a worthy endeavor. But to promote the belief that any one theology and its book of rules constitutes unquestionable eternal truth is to mistake the human for the divine. Even if a word, a sentence, a paragraph, an essay, a pamphlet, a book, is divinely inspired, it had to be written down by a human being. We have no books that were penned by supernatural beings and published on other planes of existence. We are the creators of these things, regardless of whatever divine or supernatural source we credit or invent.

Yet those who would be dictators would prohibit criticism, and so they say their words – whatever their source – are infallible. How often is this simply a tactic to deny any challenge to their dictatorial will?

We are taught to respect traditional beliefs, practices and institutions, yet our evolving democracy has expanded freedom by exposing the injustice of many traditional beliefs, practices and institutions.

I believe in the evolution of the soul, an evolution that requires us to examine our beliefs, practices and institutions, and change them, improve them, and sometimes, abandon them.

I taught my children to be suspicious of those who pretend to know the truth, as if we were all on the same journey, living the same life in the same body. I taught my children to listen to the wise counsel of parents, friends and community, then find their own way in this world. The path each of us must take in life is unique to each of us and cannot be predestined by a parent, a priest, a psychologist or a politician. We should reject those who want to control our thoughts, even those who are merely self-help guru celebrities. Given the chance, they too would be dictators.

Listen to the words of those who open doors for you, who enlarge the possibilities of your thought, who encourage you to trust your own conscience and seek your own way through this life. There are many enlightened voices, even those who would be dictators possess wise words which they offer like cheese in a mousetrap. Never let anyone take over the job which is yours alone: the growth of your heart, your mind and your spirit. This is why you are alive, to do this work that only you can do, to grow a larger soul.

Please continue.

The Boundaries Of Heaven

We draw the boundaries of heaven
Around the spaces of ourselves,
Marked off by threat
And bluster,
As if heaven were a place

~ text and photo by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved