The Answer Is... - Critical summary review - Alex Trebek

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The Answer Is... - critical summary review

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Biographies & Memoirs

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: The Answer Is...: Reflections on My Life

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 978-1982157999

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Critical summary review

In late 2020, game show host Alex Trebek died after 18 months of fighting pancreatic cancer. As the game show host of “Jeopardy!” he became a staple of American popular culture. Written in the last year of his life, “The Answer Is...” is a personal memoir looking back at his 80 years on this planet. Following his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, Trebek decided to write an autobiography, so his fans could get to know him a little better. So, get ready to learn all there is to know about Alex Trebek!

Growing up

George Alexander Trebek was born on July 22, 1940, to a Ukrainian father, George Edward Trebek (formerly known as Terebeychuk) and a French-Canadian mother, Lucille Lagace. Trebek’s father immigrated to Canada when he was still an adolescent and wound up in Ottawa, where he first started to work in the kitchen of a large first-class hotel. George Trebek quickly climbed the career ladder and was eventually promoted to pastry chef. 

Then, he moved to Sudbury where he was hired as a co-head chef at the Nickel Range hotel, where Alex Trebek would later spend a lot of his time growing up. In the 1930s, when George Trebek started to work at the hotel, it had built up such a good reputation that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stayed there on their North American tour in 1939. The Nickel Range was also where Trebek’s father met Lucille Lagace – he would drink in the bar of the hotel with her brothers, who eventually introduced the two. 

In December 1939, they married as Lagace had become pregnant with Alex. Alex Trebek grew up bilingual, speaking both French and English. He rarely got to see his dad, as he had his hands full working at the hotel kitchen. His mother stayed at home to look after him and his younger sister Barbara. This suited Trebek well – whenever his mother threatened to tell his father about some mischief Alex had been up to during the day, Alex would simply fake being asleep when his father came home at 8:30 p.m., and thereby escape punishment.

Alex was very fond of his little sister Barbara and always looked out for her. Once, she and her friends were playing on a partially frozen river near their house. Alex told her it was dangerous and that he would test the ice to see it was safe. Sadly, it was not, and he fell into the icy cold water, eventually resurfacing on the other side of the river. Trebek was rescued by a railway worker who took him back home. It was quite far to walk in soaking wet winter clothes, and this was the start of 12 years of terrible rheumatism behind Trebek’s knees. But one day, the pain simply disappeared. 

Even though Trebek was christened George Alexander Trebek, by the time he got to his teens, he had started to call himself “Alex.” Within his family, however, he had always been known as “Sonny.”


Trebek was a good student most of the time, although he did enjoy playing pranks. He was always proud of his left-slanting handwriting, but one of his teachers in primary school, Mrs. Jennings, slapped him on the hands so he would learn how to slant his writing to the right. Trebek was so upset about this unfair treatment that he switched primary schools. Even though it did not work out and he eventually returned to Mrs. Jennings’ class, she left him alone after that.

One of Trebek’s best friends was Maurice Rouleau, the son of the owner of the Nickel Range hotel. Rouleau convinced Trebek in the ninth grade to switch to a boarding school, the University of Ottawa prep school, which was run by priests. However, at about the same time, Trebek’s parents got a divorce. He blamed himself for it since his parents had been forced to marry because of his mother’s pregnancy with him. That was why Trebek became exceedingly difficult to teach, and at the end of the year, he was told by the principal that he should not return after the holidays.

Trebek and his father managed to convince the principal to give Trebek another chance, and he enjoyed being at prep school after that. Once he finished prep school, Trebek could not afford college, so he applied for military college instead. That meant four years of free college in exchange for two years of service. 

Even though it did not work out in the end (because Trebek realized that he did not want to shave off his beautiful hairstyle), the testing period for the military college taught him an important lesson. In one of the tests, a group of applicants were told to imagine how to break out of a prison camp with the help of some utensils they had been given. It later turned out that this was an unsolvable problem, and the real test had been to see whether a natural leader would emerge and how the situation would be handled.

Trebek says he learned from this that “Knowing what the goals are in life is very important.” Since it did not work out with the military college, Trebek returned to Sudbury for a matriculation year at school instead. One of his teachers, Kenny Gardner, told Trebek upon graduating that he should never lose his love of life. This deeply touched Trebek, as he felt that someone had finally understood him.


Before starting to host “Jeopardy!” in 1984, Trebek had gained plenty of experience as a game show host, hosting other shows such as “Double Dare,” “High Rollers,” and “The Wizard of Odds.” For more than a decade, he worked for the CBC and definitely logged his 10,000 hours to becoming a master of game show hosting.

While he had the experience, Trebek says that being hired as the host of “Jeopardy!” also involved a good deal of luck, as well as impeccable timing. The only reason he was hired as the host was because he had done the producers a favor a couple of years before, when he filled in as host for an episode of “Wheel of Fortune.”

Once he was hired as the host for “Jeopardy!,” Trebek quickly encountered the stinginess of Merv Griffin, one of the show’s producers. Since he was being offered little pay as a host, Trebek offered to produce the show as well as host it, but even adding those two incomes together, he still made less than on his previous hosting jobs. 

Producing the show was a challenge since they were working on a tight budget and without computers for the first season. But Trebek enjoyed coming up with new and ingenious solutions to problems; he describes himself as a problem-solver.

Trebek introduced a few changes to the show that lasted through all 37 seasons. One of those changes was that a contestant could not ring in until Trebek had finished reading the clue. Before, it had been very confusing for the audience at home since they could not see who was replying first while the camera was still focused on Trebek.

Over the years, Trebek has often been asked what the secret of ringing in first is. Here it is: “It’s simple: Know as much as you can about the categories and clues. The more you know, the faster your thumb is.”

Soon after starting to host “Jeopardy!,” Trebek found out that he had a half-brother on his mother’s side. Shortly after his parents had divorced many years before, his mother had gotten pregnant from another man who did not want to claim responsibility. So, she gave her baby up for adoption. Even though Trebek kept in contact with his half-brother, they were never close. 

Romance and family

Trebek was married twice. After a whirlwind romance, he married Elaine Callei in 1974. Callei was divorced with a six-year-old daughter Nicky at the time, whom Trebek sees as his “daughter by osmosis,” even though he never formally adopted her. Trebek’s mother came to live with the newlyweds and to look after Nicky. She continued to do so even after their amicable divorce in 1981. In fact, the two of them bought houses opposite one another and when Trebek’s mother was finished looking after Nicky during the day, she would then go over to his house and take care of his household. 

This might strike some as an odd arrangement, but Trebek says, “We’re all a very close-knit, happy family.” In fact, Trebek, his second wife and his two children regularly got together with Nicky, Elaine, and her husband.

Trebek says that his second wife Jean was love at first sight. A friend introduced her to him, and despite the age difference (Jean is 24 years younger) the two started dating. Trebek likes to do things on a whim and after a trip to Thailand for charitable work, he spontaneously proposed to Jean with a sapphire and diamond ring he had bought on his trip, with no particular purpose for it in mind at the time.

In his office is a framed image with a line from Jean and Trebek’s favorite movie “Wuthering Heights” that she gave to him: “Whatever our souls are made of yours and mine are the same.” Together, they had two children, Emily and Matthew. Together with Jean, Trebek also founded a charitable foundation, funding various universities across the States as well as projects with the charity World Vision.

Fighting cancer

In 2019, Trebek was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. The probability of surviving this particular form of cancer is extremely low. Still though, Trebek decided to fight and went through several rounds of chemotherapy over the 18 months following his diagnosis. 

As a result of the chemotherapy, Trebek’s hair fell out and he wore a hair piece. What may surprise some people is that he had already started wearing one in 2018, about a year before his diagnosis. That was because he had had some blood clots in his brain that needed to be removed through surgery, and his head had to be shaved for the procedure.

Trebek was particularly touched by the support he received from fans all around the world following his diagnosis who often praised him for his courage. Trebek does not believe that what he did was courageous, saying, “Courage is a conscious decision. You do it in a dangerous situation, when you have a choice. Here, there’s no choice.”

A few months before his death, in early 2020, Trebek’s children came home to spend time with their dad. He announced to his family that he would try one last treatment and then he would stop. He writes that he does not regret anything, and he is not scared of dying. He believes that there is a God and that there will be something for him after death.

At 80, he says he has lived a good, full life and he is simply happy he gets to spend the last of his days with the people he loves most. And while COVID-19 would prevent him from traveling in his final months, he says that probably suits him better anyway. He is happiest at home, with his soul mate Jean.

Final Notes

Alex Trebek is most well known as the host of the game show “Jeopardy!” for 37 seasons. He had a successful career as a game show host and eventually married the love of his life, Jean. Aged 80, he decided to write his memoir, which was published in July 2020. In November 2020, Alex Trebek died of pancreatic cancer.

12min Tip

Why not read the autobiography of another game show host, such as Betty White’s “If You Ask Me (And of course You Won’t)?”

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Who wrote the book?

George Alexander Trebek was a Canadian American game show host. He is best known for hosting the game show “Jeopardy!” for 37 seasons, from 1984 until his death in 2020... (Read more)

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