Bay Area 'Jeopardy!' contestants share their fondest Alex Trebek memories

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ByDavid Louie KGO logo
Saturday, January 9, 2021
Bay Area 'Jeopardy!' contestants remember Alex Trebek
Over the years, "Jeopardy!" has featured a large number of Bay Area contestants, including two in this final week with Alex Trebek. Their memories of meeting him even more touching because of his death.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Friday night's episode of "Jeopardy!" on ABC7 ends a remarkable, nearly 37-year run for host Alex Trebek.

While fans of the show mourn his death, dozens upon dozens of Bay Area residents who competed on "Jeopardy!" treasure the memories of meeting him on the set. Two of the contestants have the distinction of being on this week's final Trebek-hosted show.

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Over the years, "Jeopardy!" has featured a large number of Bay Area contestants, including two in this final week with Alex Trebek. Their memories of meeting him even more touching because of his death.

"I realized that I was going to be on some of the last games that were hosted by Alex Trebek... just gave me goosebumps, and I feel so honored to be in that historic position," said Colma resident Yoshie Hill.

San Francisco State English professor Jim Gilligan tried out over 20 times to get on the show. He made it on Trebek's final broadcast.

"I've been trying for over 30 years, and I'm glad I never gave up because not only that I got to meet Alex, who is an icon in the industry and one of the world's classiest men, but I got to be on his final show, which is pretty special," he said.

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Executive producer Mike Richards opened the show Monday night with a message to the audience about the legendary host's death.

"I was struck with such admiration for him that he would continue to do it, not only after he'd been diagnosed, but you know, he did not miss a show in the two years that he'd been battling pancreatic cancer," Gilligan added.

"I knew it was a struggle for him, but he did not let that affect his performance. Once the cameras started rolling, he was giving it everything he had."

JJ Harris from Petaluma competed on "Jeopardy!" in 2018 shortly after Trebek made public his cancer diagnosis. She tried to console him.

"I wanted to wish him good health, and I got a little emotional. My voice started to waver a little bit, and he held onto my hand and closed his eyes, and we just had a moment of connection I felt," she said.

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Retired Berkeley professor Dan Melia discovered during several "Jeopardy!" matches that he shared something unique with Trebek.

"For some reason, we got to talking about summer jobs and discovered that both he and I, when we were in college, had had summer jobs as garbagemen. And it's an odd thing to have in common," Melia said.

Some contestants might have asked Trebek for an autograph. Melia got Trebek's signature on his marriage certificate in 2005 when Melia and his bride Dara got married on the "Jeopardy!" stage.

"We had about I think 20 or 25 people, just family members and close friends on the set," said Melia. "Alex was the official witness who signed the marriage certificate, and he was right there on the stage and stayed around for the entire reception, and he's happy to have his picture taken with all the guests."

Each contestant noted that contact with Trebek was limited so as not to show favoritism and to ensure integrity of the game. Still, each came away with an impression of the popular host.

FROM THE ARCHIVE: Behind-the-scenes of 'Jeopardy!' with Alex Trebek in 1997

In this edition of "From The Archive," ABC7 News interviewed the late Alex Trebek and got a behind the scenes look of "Jeopardy!" in a story that aired in 1997.

Garrett Kuramoto, a Peninsula library manager, used the adjectives warm, genuine and affable to describe Trebek.

"Even though our time together was very short, he had an ability to make you feel like you were friends, that you were close, that he truly cared about you," he said.

JJ Harris agreed. "He gives you his full attention. You feel like there's nobody else in the world that he's thinking about or talking as he's talking to you. It's a very direct connection which not very many people are really able to do."

It's a connection that sadly comes to a close.

"Certainly it will never be the same, and we will always miss him," said contestant Kuramoto.