The question is, do you remember him with or without the moustache? Because that’s the real debate. I started watching him in the ’80s, and he wore the moustache for my formative years, but I’m not actually sure that’s how I remember him even though I watched the show more regularly in those days. But there’s newer episodes on Netflix, and I blew my son’s mind watching with him, because I knew a majority of the answers. He’s seven; his mind is easily blown.
He started working for the CBC in 1961, even before finishing his degree in philosophy at the University of Ottawa. He said he did a little of everything, filling in for pretty much every announcer at one point or another. If you were in Canada in the ’60s, you may well have heard him announcing curling or horse racing, either on TV or the radio. Or classical music, including a performance by Glenn Gould. Definitely the news.
His first quiz show was in 1966. He hosted the Toronto version of the high school quiz show Reach for the Top for a few years. In 1973, he moved to the United States and started hosting quiz shows there. It started with a show called The Wizard of Odds and kept going from there. He did a season or two of any number of shows, and as was the fashion at the time appeared as a panelist on others’ shows as well. In 1978, he and a partner even beat Scatman Crothers and his partner on Celebrity Bowling. Then, in 1984 (weirdly to me on my sister’s tenth birthday), he debuted as the host of the all-new Jeopardy!, taking over for original host Art Fleming. Which is why the Weird Al song “I Lost on Jeopardy!” doesn’t mention Trebek; the song debuted earlier that year.
For me, at least, Jeopardy! was a pure comfort food show. My grandmother loved it; if you spent time with Grandma, it was either that or Perry Mason. She taped both and watched them all day. I’m known to my friends as an utter trivia guru—I can’t get people to play Trivial Pursuit with me very often—and was one of those people who would watch the show while answering questions, or questioning answers I suppose you’d call it given the show’s format.
Probably one of the things that made Trebek such a great host was that he genuinely seemed to know a lot of the things contestants were expected to know—learning about his CBC history explains that, yeah, he probably did—but he seldom seemed to treat contestants like they weren’t worthy to be on the show if they didn’t know things. He was the kind of person who once hosted a show switching back flawlessly between French and English but still went out of his way to elicit funny and heartwarming stories from guests. With or without the moustache.