Hampstead Man Recalls How Alex Trebek Changed His Life
Hampstead native Matt Joyal, a teacher at Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, Massachusetts, had a dream of being on Jeopardy since he was a little kid. That dream seemed like it would never come to fruition when Alex announced he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in March 2019, but suddenly Matt got a call from California and he was off to participate in the 2020 Teachers Tournament!
I found Matt in the "Jeopardy!" archives and, by the way the names are listed, he may be the last New Hampshire contestant to share a stage with Trebek, who died over the weekend.
"Alex Trebek was one of people who inspired my lifelong love of knowledge and learning," Joyal said when reached by email. "In a small way, he probably impacted my decision to become a teacher. When I got the call to be on the show, I was not super excited to be on national television, and I really wasn't thinking very much about the opportunity to win money. I was mostly just glad that I'd have an opportunity to spend a few minutes in the same room with Alex.
Joyal explained that the only interaction that contestants have with Trebek is what you see on stage. Trebek knew all of the questions and answers before the show was taped, so in order to avoid any issues Trebek did not speak with the contestants beforehand.
"After the few short minutes that I did get to spend talking with him," Joyal said, "I was struck how much it felt like I had known him my whole life, and of course I had. He is in reality everything that he seems to be on TV - intelligent, witty, and most of all kind. I was fortunate enough to get to watch some of the episodes from the audience, and Alex's interactions with us during commercial breaks were relaxed and informal and clearly a source of joy for him. I wish that everyone could have had the opportunity to see him in those moments when the cameras were not rolling - no surprises, but just more evidence to confirm that he was the real deal."
After the show, Joyal was asked by many people if being on the show had changed his life. His usual answer was no; however, after reflecting over the past few days after Trebek's passing, Joyal had a different perspective.
"Maybe it did change my life," Joyal admitted. "Not in the ways that people usually talk about being on a game show, but simply because I got to meet one of my childhood heroes, and it turned out that he was exactly what I believed him to be. How many people can say that?"
Joyal won $5,000 to have made it to the quarterfinals, but it was never about the money or fame for him. It was about meeting and being in the same room as Alex Trebek. As Trebek would say: "Good for you!"