NEW YORK — Let’s take “Breakfast” for $500: An Oh Henry! chocolate bar and a Diet Pepsi.
And here’s the question: What did Alex Trebek consume a couple of hours before this interview?
“When I say ‘the Breakfast of Champions,’ I’m serious,” he jokes as he orders coffee.
A morning routine of candy and cola might not seem strange for someone other than Trebek. But for 28 years as host of Jeopardy! he’s blended likeability with an air of erudition and correctness. He’s seemingly not the sort of guy who, at 71, might choose a wakeup menu better suited to a child whose mother’s back is turned.
Trebek acknowledges the apparent contradiction, and, in his resonant, precise voice, is happy to cite another.
“People say, ‘You look to be in great shape for your age,’ and I guess I am,” he allows – “except that I keep breaking things.”
There’s that darned Achilles tendon, which he tore last July chasing a woman who invaded his San Francisco hotel room and filched several items.
“It still kills me when I walk,” Trebek says. “And I’m constantly injuring myself. Doing work around the house, you don’t notice when you injure yourself. An hour later you say, ‘Geez, I’m bleeding. How did that happen?’
“Except,” he adds with a bit of comic timing, “if you bang your head, you notice. You should never wear a baseball cap when working in close quarters in the attic: You never see that beam above you!”
But if Trebek repairing his roof on a tottery ladder (result: a broken arm) seems out of character, so be it. In person, he is leading-man handsome in a natty gray suit, a model of calm and control, the perfect steward of TV’s answer-and-question institution.
The L.A.-based Trebek is in New York to receive a Peabody Award for electronic media, as Jeopardy! joins other awardees that include serious documentaries, edgy comedies and high-toned dramas.
“We’re in some prestigious company,” Trebek says. “But I think what makes Jeopardy! special is that, among all the quiz and game shows out there, ours tends to encourage learning. A lot of the stuff is trivia, but maybe a subject will come up that will arouse the viewers’ curiosity and they’ll want to find out more.
‘‘We tell you it’s OK to be bright, to know a lot of things, and to want to learn.”
Certainly, the Jeopardy! audience (which averages 9 million daily) is rallied by each day’s three contestants who confront the game board with its half-dozen categories, each of whose five answers demands the right question.
Maybe never in the show’s long history was the competition fiercer, and more fun, than in February 2011, when a supercomputer named Watson humbled reigning human champs in a battle of Machine vs. Man.
“Learning something new is fun,” says Trebek. “When I finish as the host of Jeopardy! I’m going to go up to Taft in central California. They have a small college there that teaches you about oil drilling.” Whereupon he expounds on the subject at some length.
But wait – what about that R-word? A few weeks ago Trebek was quoted as saying he was thinking of retiring, with the explanation, “30 years has a nice ring to it.”
Now he chuckles at the uproar he sparked. What’s so surprising that, after 50 years in the business and 71 birthdays, he might consider calling it quits?
“Saying that I’ve thought about it doesn’t mean that I’m doing it,” he reasons.