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Avi Gupta: What Alex Trebek taught us: There are no 'alternative facts'

Avi Gupta: What Alex Trebek taught us: There are no 'alternative facts'

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Avi Gupta

Avi Gupta

On the “Jeopardy!” stage last year, Alex Trebek turned toward me. In his soothing and familiar voice, he asked me to speak on any subject of my choosing to an audience of millions.

Suddenly, thoughts that had been churning in my mind for months leading up to my appearance on “Jeopardy!” came together. After I finished speaking, Trebek did something unprecedented. He gently placed his hand on my back and nudged me out from behind my contestant’s podium. I will never forget what he said. “Come here. I’ll be a contestant, you be the host.”

My contestant interview during the final episode of the 2019 “Jeopardy! Teen Tournament” can be summarized in two simple words: Facts matter. This statement may seem trivial, but it is the most enduring legacy of Trebek’s 36 years on “Jeopardy!” — a legacy that ended recently with his death from pancreatic cancer at age 80.

In the 21st century, what is the point of a game show based on memorizing trivia? Why bother spending hours reading classic novels, delving into 20th century pop culture or exploring the lesser-known events of the American Revolution? After all, we now have access to some of the most powerful machines ever created. Our smartphones provide us with unfettered access to the full breadth of human knowledge and expertise. Can’t we just Google any fact we’d ever need to know?

The answer is yes, we can, but doing so would be a great disservice. Searching for facts only when they’re immediately required deprives our minds of the time to consider, grow and learn. As we learn more about the world around us, our opinions evolve.

Trebek understood this, and he devoted his career to the promotion of curiosity. On his “Jeopardy!” there were no alternative facts. An incorrect answer was met by a stern “ooh, sorry” (or perhaps a sigh of disapproval if the question related to Trebek’s beloved Canada). As “Jeopardy!” champion James Holzhauer put it the morning the game show host died, Trebek was “an impartial arbiter of truth and fact.”

In a media climate increasingly inundated by spin and misinformation, Trebek’s role as a beacon of facts and critical thinking is more vital than ever before. Viewers of “Jeopardy!” are encouraged, both literally and figuratively, to ask questions. Every single night for 36 years, Trebek brought a smorgasbord of new topics, ideas and questions to living rooms nationwide.

Though Trebek has left us, his legacy endures in the millions of people he has inspired, myself included. I cannot think of a better way to honor him than by continuing to pursue knowledge for its own sake.

So here’s my ask: Try to learn about one thing you’ve wondered about each day. Study something new on Wikipedia, watch a YouTube video or check out a book from the library. By seeking out facts for their own sake, you may change your opinions. Though Trebek’s career at the “Jeopardy!” host’s podium has come to an end, his role as an advocate for curiosity lives on in all of us.

Gupta is the reigning “Jeopardy! Teen Tournament” champion and a sophomore at Stanford University.

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