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Former 'Jeopardy' contestants remember Trebek as smart, professional, avuncular

Trebek died Sunday after a fight with pancreatic cancer.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — A consummate professional. A reassuring presence. One of the smartest people in the room.

Former "Jeopardy" contestants from East Tennessee shared their memories of host Alex Trebek, a day after he succumbed to pancreatic cancer in Los Angeles.

He was 80 and had waged a public fight with the deadly disease for more than a year.

"I think 'Jeopardy' and Alex Trebek were a perfect combination," said Steven Belding, who appeared on the show in 2016. "He suited the material and the material suited him so well, and yeah, I think he's a constant in many people's lives, throughout their entire lives."

At WBIR, we knew how popular Trebek was. If the show was preempted because of a special or because of national news, we got lots of...feedback.

Trebek had hosted "Jeopardy" since 1984. His last day in the studio was just a couple weeks ago -- on Oct. 29.

Alex Trebek

Amy Drittler, a 2012 contestant, said it was clear he loved what he did.

"He was very responsible for keeping the show moving and keeping it exciting and enjoyable for people to watch, and he will be greatly missed," she said.

Drittler said she learned at the end of her appearance that when Trebek reviewed proposed questions for future contestants, "if he sees something that he thinks may be too challenging, he will bring that up to the writers and ask them to consider maybe rephrasing an answer or a question."

Belding said he respected how Trebek wanted to make sure the contestants were the stars of the show.

"He was the host. He wasn't the star," he said.

Can anyone ever replace Alex Trebek? If so, it would have to be someone who has proper respect for "Jeopardy," Drittler said.

Credit: "Jeopardy"

"It seems to me the best candidate would be someone who is a very famous former contestant - Ken Jennings leaps to mind - somebody like that who knows the show very well, and probably knew Alex very well and would know how to step into his role," she said.