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Former ‘Jeopardy!’ contestants from Spokane remember Alex Trebek as a ‘total pro’

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 9, 2020

Staci Huffman, a CPA from Nine Mile Falls, appears with "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek in December 2018.  (Jeopardy Productions Inc.)
Staci Huffman, a CPA from Nine Mile Falls, appears with "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek in December 2018. (Jeopardy Productions Inc.)

After years spent watching Alex Trebek on TV, local “Jeopardy!” contestants said Sunday that meeting the TV giant was like catching up with an old friend.

An old friend who happened to be beamed nightly into millions of homes for more than three decades.

“It was just one of those experiences where you can’t believe you’re having your picture taken with Alex Trebek,” said contestant Lynn Yount, after news of the longtime TV icon’s death broke Sunday morning. “It’s something that’s a milestone in my life.”

Yount, then Lynn Swanbom, won $10,400 in her first appearance on the show, then added another $2,000 in a second-place finish in October 2009. At the time Swanbom was a Spokesman-Review employee.

“Jeopardy!” has been on television for most of Yount’s life after premiering in daily syndication in 1984, helping her learn unique tidbits.

“I grew up. It has been on basically my entire life. It was just a fact of life that ‘Jeopardy!’ would be on at 7. Most of the time we would tune in,” Yount said. “I was a kid that just loved having those banks of knowledge.”

After years of watching the show, Yount decided to take the online “Jeopardy!” audition test on a whim. Not long after, she was selected to compete. When it came time to meet the famed Trebek, Yount said he felt like meeting someone she had known for years.

“I’d seen him on TV a lot and so it’s kind of this feels (like) you’re shaking somebody’s hand who doesn’t know you from Eve, but you feel like you know them already,” Yount said.

During filming, contestants don’t have much time to talk to Trebek, but after competing, Yount watched from the audience. While in a commercial break, Trebek answered questions from the audience and shared stories about his recent home improvement projects.

Yount was shocked to discover the show isn’t edited very much, which she partially attributes to Trebek’s consummate professionalism.

“He was who you see on the TV, which is very polished. He knows what he’s doing, and he doesn’t make very many mistakes while doing it,” Yount said. “He’s just so quick to handle whatever.”

At least five contestants on the show have hailed from the Spokane area. Kate Allison, a public defender in Spokane, competed most recently in 2019.

Nine Mile Falls resident Staci Huffman won $30,000 during her two appearances on the show in 2018.

Huffman remembers recording the show on VCR when her family would miss the 7 p.m. airtime.

“I’ve been watching it since I can remember,” Huffman said.

She had taken the “Jeopardy!” test multiple times, but often testing occurs in March. As a CPA, that’s Huffman’s busy season.

“I just went, ‘All right, I’ll do it,’ and that was it,” Huffman said.

When it came time to film her episodes, Huffman said Trebek was just like she had seen on TV.

“How he is – is how he projects himself,” Huffman said. “It just still feels very natural.”

Like Yount, Huffman loved listening to Trebek answer audience questions during commercial breaks.

“He’s so generous with his questions,” Huffman said.

After watching an entire week of filming, Huffman said even she knew the questions Trebek was asked the most, like which category was his favorite. No matter how many times Trebek had been asked any question, he would answer it like it was the first time, Huffman said.

While Huffman said she has been bracing for Trebek’s death, it was still sad to find out he had died. Since then she said she has been thinking about how “Jeopardy!” will live on.

“There will be a distinctive line,” Huffman said. “It’s kind of like a distinctive family that’s going to have this new experience without Alex. ”

Huffman said she hopes Ken Jennings, owner of the longest winning streak on “Jeopardy!” at 74 matches, takes the reins. Jennings, a native of Edmonds, Washington, tweeted a photo of himself and Trebek taken on one of his appearances on the show.

“Alex wasn’t just the best ever at what he did,” Jennings, who joined the show as a consulting producer in 2020, wrote. “He was also a lovely and deeply decent man, and I’m grateful for every minute I got to spend with him.”

While Yount agrees no one can replace Trebek, she agrees that Jennings would be perfect to carry on the show’s legacy.

“I really want it to continue and I think Ken is the show guy that Alex was,” Yount said. “That’s kind of a clear transition for me.”

The most important thing is keeping the show alive, Yount said.

“I wouldn’t want the show to die with Alex,” Yount said. “He wouldn’t want that.”

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