Jeopardy!'s Alex Trebek, who has been hosting the top-rated quiz show since 1984, has confirmed to me that he does not expect to continue with the show beyond 2016. "I suspect this might be my last contract," says the multiple Daytime Emmy winner. "I'm not going to go on forever. My contract expires in 2016. There is a time for all things and my time may be coming."
On May 9, Trebek will appear in Washington D.C., alongside All My Children veteran Susan Lucci, to donate several Jeopardy! collectibles to a new Smithsonian exhibit dedicated to daytime television. "We have turned up the very first Jeopardy! script with my personal notations on it," he says. "We have dug up a category card from the original Jeopardy!, and I also have in my hot hands an original flip-top with the Jeopardy! logo that sat on top of the lecterns for 'Final Jeopardy' that Art Fleming [host from 1964-75] would flip over to reveal the amount of the contestants' wagers."
Trebek is still trying to locate a pair of large dice he played with while hosting the game show High Rollers from 1974-80, as well as one of the rebus visual clue puzzles from his 1988-91 stint on Classic Concentration. While he's holding on to his five Daytime Emmy Awards, Trebek is considering donating his 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award. "I have to give it a little more thought and get some more information about the museum's display plans," he says. (In other words: he understandably doesn't want it sitting in storage collecting dust.)
Trebek, 72, doesn't watch much daytime television but is proud of the medium's cultural contributions. "I think game shows were the beginning and best of reality television," he says. "With the exception of The Gong Show, we didn't embarrass people. And some great actors came out of daytime TV."
After he reads his final question in 2016, Trebek would like to take an oil-drilling course he's become intrigued by and continue his charity work. "I also wouldn't mind hosting a once-a-week type show like what Charlie Rose does. And I'd like the Pope to be my first guest." His first question for the pontiff: "Why has the Church been screwing up so much?"
As for his own final Jeopardy!, Trebek doesn't want a big to-do on his last day. Instead, he'd like "to just say 'sayonara.'" Addressing rumors that Anderson Cooper or Matt Lauer might slip behind his podium when he steps down, Trebek says, "Any of them could do it. It's just a question of whether they would want to and enjoy it. Both men are a lot younger than I am and it's a pretty static format, even though the guests and clues change, which keeps it exciting. If Matt Lauer would come over to Jeopardy!, I'd be happy to take over his job on Today."
In good health following a pair of heart attacks in 2007 and 2012, Trebek says, "My heart's fine. I go in for check-ups once a year, but you're talking to a guy who has a Diet Pepsi and a Snickers for breakfast. I've had people tell me, 'Oh God Alex, you can't do that; it'll shorten your life.' Well, tough!'" If the Smithsonian's open to it, the museum is welcome to add one more antiquity to its daytime collection when the time comes: Trebek's corpse! "They can embalm me and people can walk by," he jokes. "It won't be much of a change from the way it is now. They'll say, 'Yeah, that's Alex, about as lively as he always was.'"