Looking back, it’s easy to see why Readers Digest ranked former Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek as the eighth-most trust person in America. He was one slot behind Bill Gates and a spot ahead of his soon-to-be-ex-wife Melinda Gates. Tom Hanks took top billing.
The reason, in hindsight, makes a lot of sense. For five days a week, Jeopardy! is beamed or streamed into people’s homes, and for decades Trebek was a part of that. He was as reliable as high tide, and he was the man who had all the answers. His death in late last year to pancreatic cancer left a large hole and Jeopardy! still hasn’t filled the slot with a permanent host. Bill Whitaker of 60 Minutes is the current guest host.
“The meaning I get from my job is that it has provided me with opportunities to explore the world geographically, socially, and philanthropically,” he told Vulture in 2018. “Doing that has allowed me to develop as a human. Now, Reader’s Digest did put out a list of the most trusted people in America, and I dropped in somewhere in the top ten.”
And Trebek wasn’t the photo-op and fly home type of celebrity philanthropist. He was boots on the ground. Trebek worked with World Vision to deliver food after seeing the devastation of the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s. He continued working with the charity for decades.
His wife recently told Savannah Guthrie that Trebek wanted to be a “bridge” to empower people to find help.
“I think that is one of Alex’s gifts was that he could be very resolute and know that the truth will not hurt you, and he wanted to empower people to move through whatever challenge they had in life with a sense of inner strength, inner dignity, and love,” Jean Trebek said.
‘Jeopardy’s’ Trebek was ‘a Member of the Family’
We also build trust through familiarity. And that might seem easy when you have a daily television show, but people felt as if they knew Trebek after watching Jeopardy!.
He told the New Republic in 2014 that he’s been on the air so long that most of his fans see him as a part of their family. They eat meals with him and sat and learn from him five nights a week at the same time.
During commercial breaks, Trebek liked to speak to the audience, and he always got the sense that they were quizzing him this time. Is he the person from television or is it an act?
“I’ve been on the air for fifty years,” Trebek told the magazine, “so I’m like a member of the family. Oh, there’s Alex. Well, we’d better get him a drink and get him some French fries or potato chips or whatever. They just want to know if I am in reality the way they perceive me on television. Is he a nice guy or not? Is he aloof or not?”
And with Trebek, most everyone saw the same thing — a genuine and trustworthy friend.