Alex Trebek may the popular host of Jeopardy! as well as a family man and someone who’s bravely battling cancer, but before he became the famous face of a beloved game show, Trebek had plenty of other jobs that made up his somewhat unusual career path.
« I did everything, at one time replacing every announcer in every possible job, » Trebek said, according to publicity material from the Canadian Broadcasting Company that dates back to 1964. And that was only a slight exaggeration. Getting his start at the CBC while he was still in university, he tackled his work with the network when he wasn’t busy with his studies, saying, « I went to school in the mornings and worked at nights. » Eventually, the CBC explains that the TV host became a pretty familiar face to CBC TV watchers throughout the 1960s.
And that was just the beginning of the long, successful, and surprising career Alex Trebek had before Jeopardy!
From music to sports to a world record
Long before MTV came around, there were shows like Soul Train, which premiered in the ’70s and featured music, dancing, and the funky fashion worn by teens. Even earlier than that, up in Canada in the mid-’60s, Alex Trebek was brought on to be the host of CBC-TV’s teen dance show Music Hop. The network promoted the program by telling potential viewers that « behind the fresh-faced verve and breezy identification with youth, there’s a solid citizen » in Trebek.
However, just like a Jeopardy! contestant switching topics in a new category, Trebek switched over into hosting a new genre of entertainment by the ’70s. Handling sports coverage, still for the CBC, they note that a 1972 Globe and Mail profile stated that Trebek’s « experience ranges from acting as host on Swan Lake to the horse races. » He even covered curling for Championship Series Saturday and Sports-a-Plenty.
Around the same time, Trebek was also reporting news using the same tone of voice that would become familiar to countless Jeopardy! fans over the years. But he certainly wasn’t ready to settle there and was open to other opportunities, which would soon lead to more fame, fortune, and even a Guinness World record for longest-running game show host.
His early game show beginnings
It was another set of CBC gigs that was perhaps what led Alex Trebek to his now-iconic role. Back in the 1960s, he was brought on as the host of a teen quiz show called Reach for the Top. Pitting teams of four students from different high schools against each other, Trebek can be seen leading the « metropolitan championship playoffs » in a clip of the show that resurfaced in March 2019. He talked to CBS’ Susan Spencer in 2012 about the experience, saying, « One of the things I learned there is that I could handle a fast-paced game, because the teenagers were quick. »
Trebek also hosted a competition for adult contestants known as Strategy, which saw players working in duos while standing on a circular board with the intent to make their way to the host, who was waiting in the middle. According to the CBC, a press release from 1969 explained that the « first pair to reach the center wins valuable merchandise. » Not exactly Jeopardy!, but perhaps still fun?
From there, Trebek was firmly in the game when it came to hosting onscreen competitions, which is why he also popped up on shows like The Wizard of Odds, Double Dare, To Tell the Truth, High Rollers, Battlestars, and Classic Concentration.
Thankfully for trivia-lovers, Trebek had landed his job on Jeopardy! by 1984, and the rest is game show history.