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Ben Wiles with Alex Trebek on the set of “Jeopardy!” when Wiles was a contestant.
Photo provided by Ben Wiles

For aspiring ‘Knowers of All Things,’ Trebek was an exemplar

There is a verse in one of Peter’s letters that says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you …” (1 Peter 3:15). 

I was the kid who took that verse way out of context, way too literally. I wanted to be a Knower of Things, no matter how random the Thing. 

Indiana and Illinois are the only states that border each other in real life and on the Monopoly board. 

In pi, you have to go 26 digits past the decimal point before you hit a zero. As long as there was the chance that someone might ask me, I wanted to be able to tell them.

In sixth grade, my middle school announced that the vice principal was going to be on a game show, “Jeopardy!” We should all watch. I was intoxicated by the format — 60 rapid-fire questions about literally anything. Now I knew not only that I could be asked anything, but also who would do the asking: Alex Trebek.

My turn came on Nov. 1, 2004. It went … OK, or about as well as could be expected when the defending champion has already won 63 games in a row. Of the 61 responses I was asked for, I knew 40 and was able to get in on the buzzer for 10 of them, only twice getting Alex’s gentle correction of my pronunciations. 

(Apparently neither “Nabokov” nor “kibbutz” are accented on the first syllable. If people are going to learn English by watching Jeopardy, Alex was going to make sure they learned it properly.)

Alex Trebek was a Knower of Things. For Alex, and for the players he welcomed into his studio five nights a week for 36-plus years, the curiosity that leads to knowledge was a character trait to be celebrated. 

At a time when American culture was (or maybe still is) not always welcoming to Knowers of Things, Alex Trebek was our biggest cheerleader.

There are always more Things to Know. And at the risk of taking another verse from Peter wildly out of context, when people of good character seek to Know, that curiosity eventually leads to Love.

BEN WILES is chaplain for Ascension Saint Thomas regional hospitals in rural Tennessee. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., and a Master of Divinity from Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn. He and his family worship with the Pleasant Cove Church of Christ in McMinnville, Tenn.

Filed under: Alex Trebek Ben Wiles host Jeopardy Opinion Top Stories

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