Remembering Alex Trebek and the Jeopardy! wedding

1998 Tournament of Champions winner Dan Melia marries Dara Hellman on the Jeopardy! set. Their vows were on the game board, they rang in to say their vows, and the ceremony was performed by fellow 5-time champ Bob Harris. Alex Trebek was on hand as the official witness.

Bob Harris is an author and screenwriter who appeared on Jeopardy! fourteen times between 1997 and 2014. His book about the show is Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy!

My friend Dan was the winner of the 1998 Tournament of Champions. I got to know him while he was beating me soundly in the two-day final. This was no surprise, given he'd actually read all the books whose titles I'd merely memorised for the show.

But we became good friends, and a few years later, Dan and his girlfriend Dara had an idea.

We were laughing at dinner after competing separately in another tournament in 2005, and Dan and Dara told me they were getting married.

A minute later, their idea came, insanely, "Hey, let's do in on the Jeopardy! set — and Bob, you can officiate!" I said sure, even though I'd never done a wedding, because yeah, I'd be honored. But I didn't quite imagine the Jeopardy! part was gonna happen.

Little did I know how generous the people at Jeopardy! would be.

Fast forward a few months, and after a long day of taping five games, the entire Jeopardy! crew stayed late for the evening, and Alex and Jeopardy! gave Dan and Dara the wedding of their most lighthearted dreams.

At Alex and the producers' behest, the studio was decorated with flowers, the show's production company tossed in photography and catering, and friends and family settled in while lovely music played on the speakers.
The game board was set up with categories something like (this isn't precise, after 15 years, but it's close) —








"I" DO

Dan and Dara stood at the center podium, with the Best Man at the left podium and the Matron of Honor on the right. We did the ceremony in the form of a game, with the vows in the form of questions. (What is, "I do," Bob? etc.)

I'd done stand-up and other shows hundreds of times, and I'd been on that set maybe a dozen times before, but backstage, as we were about to begin, I was SO nervous. This was my friends' wedding! I'd never officiated a ceremony like this. Plus, y'know, um, the whole Jeopardy! thing going on, doing your first ceremony while standing at Alex's podium while the entire show was watching.

But just as I got to Alex's mark and was about to speak, I spotted Alex.
He was to my right, offstage, on the audience side of the game board. And he gave me this delighted, fatherly smile.

If you knew Alex Trebek, or if you were just a fan, you know EXACTLY what that smile looked like. And you know exactly why it felt so reassuring.
So we began. I turned to the friends, family, assorted loved ones, and the entire Jeopardy! crew — this Venn diagram overlaps greatly — and welcomed them to this lovely little chapel.

Alex Trebek and Bob Harris

That's what the Jeopardy! set was right then, truly.

Dan started out with control of the board, rang in — yes, of course we used the buzzers — revealing the clue: A MAN SAYS THIS IF HE TAKES THIS WOMAN TO BE HIS LAWFULLY WEDDED WIFE Dan gave a correct response.

Then Dara seized control of the board, and she rang in, "I'll take Weddings for $400, Bob."

Dara gave a correct response, too.

This was the most fun I ever had being part of a game of Jeopardy!

Pretty soon came my favorite moment in all the times I was on or around that stage: from the authority of Alex Trebek's podium, I got to tell two dear friends that I could now pronounce them husband and wife.

I glanced over at Alex, and he was looking at Dan and Dara with a mix of what I'd describe as joy, a sort of gentle, affectionate amusement (again, you know exactly what that looked like), and obvious happiness that this whole thing had come together.

It's that moment — the way he was just beaming at Dan and Dara — that I'll remember most, when I think of Alex.

A few minutes later, Alex came over to his podium and signed the wedding certificate as Dan and Dara's official witness. You should have seen how delighted he was.

We both walked over to congratulate Dan and Dara (that's the moment in the screengrab), who then danced at center stage while friends and loved ones looked on. (Notice I'm no longer separating out the producers and crew; the Venn diagram collapsed for the evening.)

None of this was for broadcast, mind you; the only thing the public ever saw was the tiny clip now on YouTube. This was just Alex and everyone at the show being generous for its own sake.

Whether you're a Jeopardy! fan or just know Alex Trebek from pop culture, I want you to take a moment to consider the generosity required to host that show. It's a lot more than I think most people realize.

Once the game starts, the players are in charge of the show, not the host, who is really half traffic cop, half waitstaff: "I'll have WWII for $1600," they command, over and over, hopping around the board while Alex smoothly delivers each order. Amid all that, I want you to watch sometime, especially during Alex's last episodes about to air, just to count how many times the man encouraged people in every game.

It's not all in the words. Listen to Alex's tone of voice with right and wrong responses, clue after clue after clue. Encouraging, nearly always. Alex did this five episodes every taping day, twice a week, for 37+ years, so constantly that I've never seen it even mentioned, much less appreciated. I think that's part of what millions of viewers sensed without realizing.
So yes, people have asked me since 1997, when I was first on the show, what Alex is really like. (Was, now, and we will not get used to that soon. And people are asking me today. My answer has changed, of course, in 23 years, as everyone has grown.

The first thing I used to say: he's surprisingly funny and friendly off-camera. After being around the show longer: he really actually did know an awful lot of the answers but was humble about it. When I wrote a book about the show, I learned how trusting he was, letting me use his name in the title, asking only "is it funny?" and then just letting me write whatever I wanted. (Years later, the book itself became a clue on the show, which felt more validating than any review.)

Today, I could point out that in 57 years in the public eye, no great scandal, no controversy—and how many of us could do that, across all the cultural changes from the 1960s to now?

I could tell you that his delight in hosting the show's Teen Tournaments was palpable at their briefest mention; he loved seeing young people flourish. Or I could go on about Alex's enormous donations to education, or his charity work—his favorite charity was WorldVision, for its efforts to help children in the developing world. Alex travelled overseas many times to speak on their behalf.

Ultimately, though, only his family could really tell you who Alex really was
To his family and loved ones, again, deep condolences for your loss. Somebody wise once said that grief is just love that no longer has its normal place to go, and feels lost. Thinking about that has always helped me through my own losses.

When I notice my own grief, I can recognize the love behind it, and it helps. Sometimes it helps me push the feeling over into gratitude. Sometimes.
To everyone else who loves Jeopardy! and what Alex Trebek brought into our living rooms for decades, I can only share the Alex I saw. My fondest memory, of many, was the day he gave up his podium so two sweet people could vow their eternal love. Alex smiled at them exactly the way you imagine right now: generous and gracious as always.

So today, of course, I'm working on gratitude. I want to thank Alex again.