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James Holzhauer says he can’t imagine ‘Jeopardy!’ without Alex Trebek

Updated October 9, 2019 - 9:08 pm

James Holzhauer said that longtime “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek was on top of his game during the recent taping of the show’s Tournament of Champions.

But after months of fighting pancreatic cancer, Trebek told Canada’s CTV on Friday that his 35-year run as host of the popular game show might be nearing an end after more than 8,000 episodes.

“I will keep doing it as long as my skills do not diminish, and they have started to diminish,” Trebek, 79, told CTV’s Lisa LaFlamme.

Holzhauer, the Las Vegas-based professional sports gambler who captivated the nation during a record-setting 32-game “Jeopardy!” win streak this year, took the news hard.

“I’m not sure I can give you a more poignant reaction than ‘this really sucks,’” Holzhauer told the Review-Journal on Wednesday in an email. “It’s basically the same thing I felt when I first heard the news of his cancer diagnosis in the ‘Jeopardy’ green room.

“I will say that during the ToC taping, Alex’s voice and delivery sounded as good as ever.”

Holzhauer called Trebek a trouper, noting, “I’m sure it’s getting more and more difficult for him to keep showing up to work …”

In March, Trebek disclosed he was undergoing treatment for stage 4 pancreatic cancer. In May, he said he was in “near remission.” But in September, he revealed he would be undergoing another round of chemotherapy.

Trebek told CTV that he has started to get sores inside his mouth from the chemotherapy, making it difficult to enunciate, and that he sometimes hears himself slurring his words on the show.

Holzhauer, a Naperville, Illinois, native, made a donation in June to the Naperville Pancreatic Cancer Research Walk for $1,109.14 — his daughter’s birthdate — with the message “For Alex Trebek and all the other survivors.”

“I felt like I had to do something in Alex’s honor, and it was a great opportunity to show my hometown some love,” Holzhauer said. “I was definitely surprised when that donation went viral.

“Whatever happens from here, I’m glad I had the opportunity to be on the show with Alex. I can’t imagine ‘Jeopardy’ without him.”

Trebek thanked Holzhauer’s daughter on one episode for a handmade card.

“I want to express my thanks to your beautiful little daughter, Natasha, for having made this get well card for me,” Trebek told Holzhauer. “That was very sweet of her.”

Besides the on-air banter between them, Holzhauer said he didn’t get to interact much with Trebek.

“Unfortunately, contestants don’t really get the opportunity to fraternize with the host,” he said. “Thanks, 1950s quiz show scandals!”

The Tournament of Champions is scheduled to air Nov. 4 to 15 and offers a grand prize of $250,000. Holzhauer is one of 15 former contestants in a field that includes Emma Boettcher, the librarian who ended Holzhauer’s win streak on the June 3 episode. He won $2.46 million during his run, falling $58,484 short of matching Ken Jennings’ all-time regular game total of $2.52 million in 2004.

Trebek told LaFlamme that he doesn’t fear death.

“The thought of pancreatic cancer does not frighten me,” he said. “I’m 79 years old. So, hey, I’ve lived a good life, a full life, and I’m nearing the end of that life. I know that.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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