The “Power Players” editions of “Jeopardy!” — taped in D.C. last month — will be broadcast Monday night through Friday at 7:30 on WJLA ABC 7. To warm up, read my behind-the-scenes profile of host Alex Trebek, take our quiz on the 28-year-old show and view the following photo gallery of Trebek through the years. The lineup of celebrity contestants, plus outtakes from my interview with Trebek, are after the jump.
WEDNESDAY: Katty Kay, Mehmet Oz, Chris Wallace
THURSDAY: Lewis Black, Clarence Page, Chuck Todd
View a photo gallery of the contestants here. And here are quotations from Trebek that did not make the interview:
Are you religious?
“I’m spiritual, I suppose, but not formally religious. I think religion has done more damage than — ... [I’m] spiritual in terms of believing in a supreme being. Not religious in terms of looking at how different religions are so dogmatic that they are exclusive as opposed to inclusive in the way they approach humanity. ‘If you’re not one of us, you’re not going to heaven, you’re not going to be one of the chosen, you’re not this, you’re not that.’ Nonsense. Why can’t it be, ‘We’re all in the same boat and the only criterion that should be important in our lives is how we treat our fellow man.’ Because if you treat your fellow man the right way — the kind way, the generous way — then you never have to worry about God looking at you sideways and saying you’re a bad person. Because you’re not a bad person.”
You used to want to be an actor. Is the Alex Trebek we see on TV an act?
“No. It’s not an act. It’s me. It’s one of the reasons why in the past a lot of actors were not very good game or quiz show hosts. They have trouble being themselves. They’re great actors, they’re great at performances — portraying somebody else. They feel more comfortable that way. They have difficulty expressing themselves in terms of who they are.”
I assume that people project onto you their own opinions and interpretations of who you are. Do you hear that at all?
“Oh we’ll get letters sometimes.”
Letters you’ll see and read?
“Oh sure. We had our teachers tournament this past year and I made an off-hand comment at the end of, I guess, the interview section when I talk to the three players. ... I don’t know exactly what led up to it but I said something like, addressing the television audience, ‘Now, isn’t that great?’ and ‘Wouldn’t you be happy if your kids had teachers like this too?’ And I got three angry letters saying basically, ‘How dare you speak that way. There are wonderful teachers out there.’ And I responded by saying, ‘If you’ve watched the show’ — and they all start with ‘I’ve watched you for years’ or ‘you sure get off on pronouncing these foreign words correctly.’ So I wrote back to say, ‘What would you rather have me do? Mispronounce them?’ And I said, ‘If you’ve watched as you say you have, for years, then you’ve heard me ... sing the praises of teachers as unappreciated and underpaid members of our society. So why would you jump to this conclusion.’
So you respond? To certain letters?
“Yeah. If somebody is gonna take a swipe at me, I’m not necessarily going to turn the other cheek and let them take a second shot, or get away with something stupid and unfair. You know. If you’ve got a legitimate complaint — and most of the time they read into it. And these comments were from teachers. So I felt like writing back — I didn’t — but I felt like writing back to one of them, ‘How many of your former students have written you and contacted you over the years and thanked you for being such a great teacher? Were you in fact a great teacher?’ You know. Again, get your ego out of the way. It’s just stupid. Don’t take yourself seriously. Take your job seriously. Don’t take yourself seriously. That’s the way I look at it.”
When will you know it’s time to retire?
“It’ll just be a feeling. ‘Hey it’s time. Let’s move on.’ Regis quit his show and he was still going strong. Bob Barker quit his game show and he was going strong. Other people know when to quit. Same is true of athletes. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — who was a perennial all-star, a major performer in the NBA for 20 years — he quit. Could he have performed for another year? Absolutely. Could he have been as good as he once was? No. But he didn’t have to be. He had a good surrounding cast. So you just — there comes a point where you just say, ‘Hey. It’s — time.’ Knowing when it’s time. If you’re a stand-up comic, knowing when to stop that particular bit. Or if you’re an improvisational comedian, knowing when to stop the routine. Know when to go to black. That’s very important. Timing is very important in life.”
Where have you most been in awe when traveling?
“Machu Pichu. Victoria Falls. The Grand Canyon. … Niagara Falls is pretty impressive when you’re allowed to get that close to such a major cataract. The Great Wall of China is impressive. The pyramids. The Maasai Mara: the grasslands of Africa. Kenya and Tanzania. ... That’s one of the great things about being curious. You always want to see something else. And I never cease to be in awe of the world. There is beauty, there is spectacle, there is splendor everywhere on earth. It’s just a question of having the right kind of eyes with which to see it. Some people — it doesn’t matter. ‘Oh well that’s nice. Where we gonna have lunch?’”