Alex Trebek on 'Jeopardy!'s' Longevity, His Health Issues and When He Might Retire (Q&A)
A version of this story first appeared in the May 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
What's your health regimen like?
I was counting up my various surgeries the other day and I think it's close to 20 now — different parts of my body — and people often ask, they say, "You appear to be in good shape, do you work out?" I say, "No." "Do you diet?" "No." "Do you eat well?" "Well, sort of," but my breakfast of champions for years was a Snickers and a Diet Pepsi, and this past year I ran into a nutritionist who said, "Oh, Alex that's terrible! You've got to be eating better than that at the start of the day." So I changed. I stopped eating Snickers and Diet Pepsi and I replaced them with Milky Ways and Diet Cokes, so you're not going to catch me eating properly in the mornings. I do have a good solid dinner every evening, but I find that there must be some kind of camel blood in me because if I'm working outside — and I love working around the house — if I'm doing physical labor I never think of food; I don't get hungry, I don't get thirsty, and as a result my body cramps up like mad in the evenings, and I just go crazy complaining. And so I should drink more water, but I don't have a regimen, a good-health type regimen.
Did the heart attack do anything to change your regimen?
No, and the second heart attack didn't do anything either, so I'm good.
Congratulations on your Guinness record as the person who has hosted the most TV game shows. Have you had any communication with Bob Barker, whose record you broke?
No, we haven't had any communication about this. I had lunch with Bob a few months ago, and we've been meaning to get back together for another lunch, but no. You know, it's funny, when you're hosting a program like Jeopardy! for this long, you don't necessarily think about records. If you pay attention to some of the athletes competing now, Albert Pujols for the Los Angeles Angels is about to set a record past a certain mile point — I think it's 400 home runs, something like that — and there are other players out there who are about to pass milestones, but they don't really think about it that much in advance. Derek Jeter for the Yankees passed — what was it? — 3,000 hits or something for the Yankees this past year, and you just do your job. Are you happy doing your job? Yeah. I'm not standing here saying, 'Boy, if I could just last another year I could set a record and be in the Guinness Record Book.' It doesn't operate that way. I'm just enjoying what I'm doing, I'm happy to have a job. I like the show, I like the contestants and it pays well.
Mentioning another year, you talked a lot about longevity today in answering questions from the audience and in a conversation with Ken Jennings. Yet exec producer Harry Friedman has said repeatedly the job is yours as long as you want it.
That's good to know. That's a great feeling to have. I told audiences and interviewers in the past that I will stick with it as long as I'm having a good time and as long as I feel my skills haven't diminished too much. They have diminished somewhat; I'm slower than I used to be. There are times when I have what I call senior moments, little skips in the brain process, and I understand that. But hopefully the audience is going to continue to be very forgiving of those kinds of mistakes, and I can see myself going on. I made the mistake a couple of years ago of, in response to a question that was asked, "Do you ever think about retirement?" And I said, "Yeah." Well, all of a sudden it got blown out of proportion and I was retiring, but that wasn't the case and I'm happy doing what I'm doing and I'll keep doing it for awhile — I don't know how long.
You're not insecure about keeping this job?
I don't worry about it at all. When it happens it will probably happen the same way it happened when I shaved my moustache in 2001: It will happen on a whim. I will decide at that moment, "This is it. Leave me an extra 30 seconds at the end of the program so I can say goodbye."
Do you feel confident the show will go on beyond you?
Oh yes. It's a good show; it will survive. I mean, someone like Brad Rutter, who was a contestant in our Battle of the Decades tournament. He's got a good sense of humor and certainly broad-based knowledge that will help him immensely. And he has the credentials — he's won two of our big tournaments: 1 million and 2 million dollars. So somebody like Brad. It could be a young broadcaster in another part of the country, it could be someone who follows in the footsteps — someone like Pat Sajak, starting out as a weatherman. Weathermen, interestingly enough, as I travel the country, I discovered that so many of the local stations, when they have their news crew doing their early-evening news, the ones on staff who do best — because they play, they watch Jeopardy! while it's airing — the ones who do best are the weathermen, the weather people, men and women. It's interesting.