Since Alex Trebek announced Wednesday night that he had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, support for the longtime Jeopardy! host has poured in from celebrities, fans, and former show contestants, including some from the Philadelphia area.
Trebek announced his diagnosis in a video posted online, saying that he is “going to fight this” and joking that he has to beat the disease because he has to “host Jeopardy! for three more years” under the terms of his current contract.
“So help me,” Trebek said. “Keep the faith and we’ll win. We’ll get it done. Thank you.”
Particularly affected by Trebek’s announcement was 6ABC anchor Alicia Vitarelli, who said she grew up watching Jeopardy! in New York City. Years later, when Vitarelli joined the staff at 6ABC, she interviewed Trebek several times, and even presented a Philly-themed clue in a video appearance on the show last year.
“He loves Philadelphia,” Vitarelli said. “This city has been a tremendous driving force in [Jeopardy’s!] success. This still remains a major city where families will sit and watch that show in real time the way I did when I was a little girl. It has ingratiated him to Philadelphia.”
Numbers bear that out. According to the most recent Nielsen ratings, Jeopardy! averages 447,000 viewers ages 18 and over per night in the Philadelphia region.
Vitarelli added that Trebek’s cancer diagnosis felt like hearing similar news about “your friend or uncle.” She commended Trebek on the “grace and positivity” with which he handled the announcement.
“He has a tough battle ahead, but he has an incredible attitude,” Vitarelli said. “There is a humanity about him that is unparalleled, and I think that is why his announcement struck so many people on a personal level.”
Former Jeopardy! contestant Meghan Schulz, a Bristol-based environmental safety planner at SEPTA who appeared on the show earlier this year, concurred, calling Trebek “charming, funny, [and] delightful.” Schulz won her first appearance on the show, taking home about $27,000 in winnings, but she said the most “surreal” part of the experience was hearing Trebek say her name.
“Things that unite us are so valuable,” Schulz said of Jeopardy! “Alex is a visible symbol that knowledge is power and learning is cool and fun.”
Marjorie Goldman, a Bala Cynwyd resident who appeared on Jeopardy! in 2000, recalled her time on the show as “a little out-of-body” experience, as she had grown up watching the program since it was hosted by Art Fleming in the 1960s and ’70s. Goldman ended up winning $10,000 in her appearance, and her son, Ben, appeared on Jeopardy! several years after her as part of the Jeopardy! College Championship in 2005.
After more than 30 years as Jeopardy! host, Trebek, she said, is “just a part of the fiber of our lives,” like Walter Cronkite.