True story, man

The legacy of Jeopardy!. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

“She turned to us and was like, ‘Hey, I’ve got two doses of the vaccine and I’m going to have to throw them away if I don’t give them to somebody. We close in 10 minutes. Do you want the Moderna vaccine?” 

David MacMillan, a Washington, DC law student, who was in the right place at the right time to get a Covid vaccine, despite being nowhere near the top of the list.


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Lasting legacy

The last episodes of Jeopardy! hosted by the late Alex Trebek are airing this week, after being delayed during the Christmas season.

By all accounts, Trebek was a decent, generous human being. What’s wild about his TV legacy, however, isn’t just that he was the star of something that weaved its way into our shared consciousness, but that he did it, so steadily, and for so long, that it became a key part of other iconic media—some of it from decades ago.

A few examples:

  • Groundhog Day. This movie is almost 28 years old, and yet there’s a key scene in which Bill Murray's character watches Trebek on Jeopardy! (The exclamation point is part of the show's name.)

  • The 1980s sitcom, Cheers? There's a classic episode in which one of the main characters gets to compete on Jeopardy!

  • White Men Can't Jump? It's from 1992; one of the big plot points has to do with a supporting character's key goal in life: to appear on and win Jeopardy!

During the last few shows that aired before he died, viewers learned about something else that happened as a result of Trebek's tenure.

This came after the winner of one episode, Burt Thakur, 37, an engineer from Palm Springs, California, became emotional when Trebek asked Thakur if he had family or friends at home rooting him on:

“Here's a true story, man. I learned English because of you. My grandfather who raised me...I used to sit on his lap and listen to you every day. So, it's a pretty special moment for me, man. Thank you very much.”

Thakur apparently immigrated to the United States from India at age 8, and his first languages were Hindi and Urdu. He was the only immigrant with a similar story, either.

“That show most definitely accelerated that process, in realizing that there's more than one way to express a thought or an intent,” said Korean-American comedian June Yoon, who immigrated to the U.S. at age 14 and improved his English by watching the show.

Now, one of the things I love about this phenomenon, is simply that Trebek couldn't have known the impact he was having—at least not in the beginning.

Instead, he simply did the work, show after show, from 1984 to last year, becoming, as one obituary put it, “an authoritative and unflappable fixture for millions of Americans who organized their weeknights around the program.”

He hosted more than 8,000 episodes—a record—and skipped only once in 36 years: April Fool's Day in 1997, when Trebek and longtime Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak switched places. (That’s kind of funny, right? Especially since it’s the only day.)

Over time, of course, he understood the show's significance, and he experienced a kind of ubiquitous, low-key, calming fame. 

Anyway, that’s the key takeaway for me: the notion that if you show up, and you do your job each day, and you deliver consistent results—even on the days when it's the hardest—your real legacy might be even greater than you imagine.

You might never know all the people whose lives you influence, or how. But dedication and consistency can be virtues, and they can pay off in ways you'll never even know about.


7 other things worth your time


Thanks for reading, and happy new year! Oh, I wrote about this lesson from Jeopardy at Inc.com. If you liked this post, and you’re not yet a subscriber, gosh, what are you waiting for? Please sign up for the daily Understandably.com email newsletter, with thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers.  

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