'Let go of a little bit of hate': Alex Trebek inspired 'Jeopardy!' contestant to turn his life into 'an act of service'

Elisabetta Bianchini
·4-min read

As news of Alex Trebek’s death spread around the world, Jeopardy! fans quickly started sharing how much the legendary, Canadian television host meant to them, including contestant on the show, Burt Thakur.

“It's my request that if anyone's reading this article, that they have a bit of empathy and kindness for people today, to let go of a little bit of hate,” Thakur told Yahoo Canada.

Thakur made headlines after his recent appearance on Jeopardy! where after a US$20,400 win, the contestant told Trebek that he learned English by watching the show.

“My grandfather, who raised me...I used to sit on his lap and watch you everyday,” he said on the show.

Thakur and his family moved to the U.S. from India when he was about eight-years-old. He grew up in Long Island, New York and went to high school in Manhattan and then military school in Pennsylvania before joining the Navy.

“I was basically Homer Simpson, I operated nuclear reactors,” Thakur explains with a laugh.

The engineer, now based in California, revealed that he believes watching Trebek was part of his “training” for a life of service and showing compassion to others, particularly to people in distress while in the Navy.

“My grandfather, when I was young, would tell me all the time, ‘that's a good man and one day you're going to be on that show and I want you to shake his hand and tell him that,’” Thakur said while reminiscing about his connection to Trebek as a child.

Thakur described the game show host has someone who “truly” cared about what he did and the impact it had on other people’s lives.

“When you have stage four cancer in the height of COVID, even though you're in pain, you're not showing it, you're not wincing [but] you might be walking slowly,” he said “He's fighting stage four cancer and he’s still wondering if the questions make sense to the viewers at home.”

“That was Alex's mentality and that was such a tremendous lesson that I learned by being on that show, that if you dedicate your life to doing not only what you love, but you approach it with the purpose of making it for service, you affect so many people.”

Trebek’s witty remarks shortly before his death

Although Thakur revealed the impact of Trebek’s illness was palpable when he was on Jeopardy!, the legendary game show host was still funny and witty.

“At one point, he turned over to me and he said, ‘young man that is a fantastic beard. When I was younger, I too had a beard that was long and shiny like yours but NBC made me shave it. Never shave that beard,’” Thakur revealed.

“On the next day when I told him about learning my perfect diction from him he said, ‘well, I learned something sitting on my grandfather's lap too, he taught me swear words.’”

Thakur was “elated” when he was able to be on Jeopardy! and said that he “never expected in a million years” that he would have the opportunity to do so.

“Walking on that set was amazing,” he said. “The people around me were so accomplished in what they were doing, they were such good human beings.”

“One person was working for a cure for the coronavirus...One person was a teacher who was still working on his lesson plan as we were waiting on the wings to get on.”

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 08: Flowers are seen on Alex Trebek's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on November 08, 2020 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 08: Flowers are seen on Alex Trebek's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on November 08, 2020 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)

Jeopardy! wasn't just a quiz show’

It’s clear from stories like Thakur’s and others that Jeopardy! is so much more than just a game show to some many people.

“That show was one about bringing people together,” Thaku explains. “Jeopardy! wasn't just a quiz show, [it] was on the surface level, but...[it’s] a show that introduced to a lot of people Western culture as a whole and, in effect, this grand richness of the North American experience.”

“I know Canadians and Americans have sometimes a funny notion that we're so dissimilar but we’re really not,...we have the same basic ethics, freedom and democracy, and inclusivity and acceptance,...and a show like that I think exemplifies those ideals.”

Thakur believes Trebek’s legacy will be one of inspiring people of all ages to have a “natural curiousity” and “empathy for their fellow human being.

“To use his life as an opportunity to see how you can become the best of us, how you can turn your life into an act of service,” Thakur said. “That's what he did for me.”