Alex Trebek rambles on, another gracious anecdote that carries us through commercial break. I’d always thought these little chat-ups were fake, but the guy is full of himself, extolling the virtues of Malaysian fruits to the giggly delight of Sue, a teacher from Milwaukee.
My mike pack digs into my sweaty back. It’s the first taping of the morning, Double Jeopardy time. Carefully, I reach back and adjust the position of the .38 with my right hand. Where it needs to be.
Somehow, I win. And now Trebek has come and gone. The second taping starts and he’s already laughed at my stammering and been an arrogant prick and bolstered my resolve. Only I can’t stop sweating. I’m wiped down on commercial break, producers going on, telling me everything’s fine. They think it’s nerves. They’re right.
39, 625 contestants have been on this show over the years. And Alex Trebek chose my wife to seduce. Now, with Trebek retiring at the end of this season, it’s my love for my wife that carries me through. I know it’s fate. As sure as the blue on the screen, it’s fate.
By the third show I’m in a groove. The producers treat me like royalty. The opportunity never reveals itself. Stage people everywhere, like worker ants, skittering behind the scenes, commercial breaks. Alex doesn’t like his water. They fetch him another one. Alex wants his Danish. Alex said aloe tissues. Meanwhile I keep winning. But the money isn’t important. I’m not here for the money. I’m here for Alex Trebek.
He probably doesn’t even remember. 1998. Episode #1658, Frida Kapinski vs Walter Goldberg vs. Aaron Tucker. Frida went bust. But Alex saw something he liked.
I’ve watched the episode over one hundred times. How she giggles—like Sue the teacher did—when he takes her hand. Later, I found out about the candlelit dinner. The swanky hotel.
Frida never returned home, at least not whole. I picked her up at the airport, $1,000 richer but without a soul. He’d ruined my lovely Frida. For the next few weeks she roamed the house in a daze. She said my voice was too high-pitched, that I was unsophisticated. I mispronounced words, had no knowledge of ancient Greek pottery.
Frida had been Trebeked.
We lasted a year. She drank wine by the bottle. Her eyes rapt with lust, as the camera zoomed in and Alex announced what show we were watching. I sought help, finding an AOL chat forum of other saps who’d lost their wives to the gallant host. Trebek had done this before. He had all the questions, but no answers.
Desperation peaked. I grew out a mustache. A devilish thing that tickled my nose. My dear Frida laughed in my face. She said I looked like a rodeo clown. A few weeks later she was gone. Off to Canada.
It’s taken me almost twenty-years, but here I am. Afternoon session, and Alex is in his fifth suit. He’s gotten chummy with me the way that he does all winners. He doesn’t suspect a thing. If he did, he would tuck that smirk away and run for cover.
Final Jeopardy. 19th Century Politics. It’s go time. I bet the house. Thirty grand. Who cares? I haven’t even read the answer, because the question I scrawl is simple.
“Who’s about to die right now?”
But something happens to the board. The music halts and everything goes blank.
Tebek sighs and removes his head-piece. Technical difficulties. He wanders over as a moon-skinned techie fiddles with the buttons. I wonder how many women he’s seduced. I casually reach behind my back while the other two contestants make small talk. But then Trebek ambles over and leans closer. And like my screen, I freeze up.
He’s chatty, calm, suave. I can see it now. How Frida fell for him. The professorial way that he fixes his tie, cuts his eyes to us. “How’s that pottery, Ralph?.”
Sue giggles. Hell, I giggle. The lights flash back on. I let go of the gun, slide my hand across my back. Pottery. It clicks. I fill in my answer. Henry Clay.
I’m right, and I’ve bet the house. I can’t be caught.
Because I want to win. I want to stay.
Maybe Frida is watching.