Richards joined the game show in 2020 shortly after his predecessor, Harry Friedman, retired. As a result, he presided over one of its most tumultuous and historic years amid both the coronavirus pandemic and Trebek’s battle with pancreatic cancer. The longtime host died in November.
Richards remembers him as a “warrior” who refused to let his illness get in the way of the work he loved. After forming a close relationship with Trebek while working to get the show back in the studio following COVID-19 lockdowns, Richards explained to Entertainment Weekly that the host’s chief concern was never himself.
“It was really interesting for my relationship to [go from] very distant and barely knew him, to very close with him at the end and talking to him quite often,” Richards told the outlet in a story published this week. “He wanted to know how the staff was doing, how the crew was doing, make sure everybody was hanging in there. One of our final conversations was him very concerned about my kids, and kids in general in this country that aren’t able to go to school. I remember him saying, ‘This is a challenge for all humanity.’ He was obviously very ill at that point, but that was where his concern was.”
The host, who often said that the game and the fans that came with it helped him get through his treatment, continued to appear on the show until ten days before he died. Trebek’s final shows are set to air in the first week of January.
Richards recalled how much Trebek insisted on being in the studio to film, even if his health conditions made it difficult for him.
“In the last few weeks, he had an intestinal surgery, and he was out for a little bit,” Richards explained. “I talked to him seven days before what would end up being his final taping session, and I said, ‘Alex, you’re barely up and around. We have a long way to go before you’re gonna be back in the studio taping.’ He got very firm, which I loved, and he goes, ‘I’ll be there. Don’t you cancel anything.’ And sure as heck, he was. He was a warrior.”
His final days of taping were marked by the cast and crew being fully aware of how much he was fighting but marveling at how impossible it was to tell in his performance. Richards promises that fans will not be able to tell that the host is in poor health at all when they watch his final week of shows.
After Trebek’s final shows air, former champion contestant Ken Jennings will take over as interim host along with a bevy of other guest hosts. As for Trebek’s permanent replacement, Richards says he had a lot of conversations with him about what kind of person they should select. However, he noted the host was careful never to name any names.
“He wanted to be very careful to not weigh in on that. Not that he didn’t care, because he cared at a very high level, [but] he knew how influential any suggestion he made would be, and he wanted us to come to it the way we wanted to, not because of what he wanted,” Richards concluded. “So he and I spent a lot of time talking about what attributes a host should have, what we should look for, those types of things. He always said that the stars of Jeopardy! were the contestants and the game, not the host.”