‘He Was Incredibly Warm': Heartbroken Local Contestant Remembers Jeopardy's Alex Trebek

NBC Universal, Inc.

As Alex Trebek's final Jeopardy! episodes come to a close, NBC 7 spoke with an assistant professor at USD who recalled his time on the show.

The beloved longtime game-show host died of pancreatic cancer in November. Sadly, the pre-taped show that San Diegan T.J. Tallie appeared on aired a few weeks later in December.

Tallie said he was nervous going in to tape his first episode, but as soon as he met Trebek, the host instantly calmed his nerves by kicking off the show, after greeting the show's longtime announcer and the studio audience, by joking with Tallie about his then-blue Mohawk.

"Thank you, Johnny. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. We'll talk," Trebek said, giving Tallie a mock-stern look.

USD assistant professor T.J. Tallie won the game show on Monday night. Video courtesy of Jeopardy! Productions Inc.

While Tallie started off the show slowly, he eventually rose to the occasion.

"The first 14 questions, it's a fun moment of me standing like this," Tallie said, gesturing as if he were holding a buzzer in his hand. "Now, I'm buzzing in, but [the other contestants] are both faster than me and I finally hit my groove and confidence and I was like, 'OK, we got this.'… Suddenly I'm twice ahead of the competitors and there was this sense of, 'This historian might win at Jeopardy!, Alex' "

Tallie ended up walking out with more than $18,000 after beating four-time winner Ryan Hemmel.

Tallie grew up watching Jeopardy! with his late grandmother, who appeared on another Trebek show in the early '90s.

"It’s surreal for me to have met Alex in his final year, as he had been such a warm and charming host for my grandmother, who met him when she was a contestant on Classic Concentration in 1991," Tallie remembered this week. "To have lost both my grandmother and Alex in these last few years is heartbreaking, but I also feel grateful and delighted to have spent time with him, to have enjoyed his company, and to have been a San Diego contestant who did our city proud on Jeopardy?"

This is the final week of Jeopardy! with late host Alex Trebek; a local contestant looked back on the first time she got to meet him.

Tallie's memories extend past what the viewers saw.

"He was incredibly warm and affable, but above all, he was just so mentally quick," Tallie added. "You could tell that he had a genuine enthusiasm for his job, for knowledge and for meeting new people. One of the highlights of my day was exchanging fast-paced quips and banter with Alex between episodes, and talking at length about African history and why it fascinated me."

Alex Trebek's final episode on Friday will end with a special tribute. Jeopardy! airs every night at 7:30 p.m. on NBC 7.

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