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Poignant tribute closes Alex Trebek's final 'Jeopardy!' episode

This image released by Jeopardy! shows Alex Trebek,

This image released by Jeopardy! shows Alex Trebek, host of the game show "Jeopardy!"  Credit: AP/Carol Kaelson

After 36 years, 8,200-or-so editions, and an unbroken record for decency — quite possibly unprecedented for any veteran TV host — "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek said goodnight for the last time Friday. His final words were as familiar as the setting sun: "Thank you, ladies and gentleman for spending the time with us. We'll see you again next week."

And just like that, a legendary run ended. As always, Trebek was Trebek — the consummate pro who had another show to wrap, the battler who had hid his battle from public view. See ya next week. That was it.

Trebek's final episode, which was taped in late October, had been scheduled to air Christmas Day. Instead, to build continuity and a bank of new episodes with Ken Jennings a temporary replacement starting Monday, production company Sony held on to this last one until Friday — exactly two months to the day that Trebek passed away from pancreatic cancer.

The show's executive producer, Mike Richards, told Deadline recently that after the show had been taped, Trebek had told him he'd be back the following week — the same old reliable Trebek, the same old reliable routine.

Then, a couple days later, Trebek called him to say he was under the weather. "'Not going to be able to come this Monday …,'" Richards recalled.

The finality of this finale was blunt. For longtime fans who knew what was coming, perhaps almost too blunt.

Unusual for game shows, or for hosts, consistency has been the "Jeopardy!" signet since Sept. 10, 1984 when Trebek began. (The show launched in 1964, with host Art Fleming, but Trebek's "Jeopardy!" became the standard.)

His "Jeopardy!" arrived every weeknight on WABC/7 at 7, with announcer Johnny Gilbert 's "And now. here is the host of 'Jeopardy …'" This final episode did not deviate or disappoint. Trebek arrived, the lights came up, and the last Trebek contestants were introduced: returning champion Yoshie Hill and her two challengers, Cliff Chang, Jim Gilligan.

As he has done countless times with countless contestants, he asked those contestants about their own life quirks — that which makes them so unique and important. Gilligan told him he has a problem with something called "tsundoku," or an inability to read all the books you buy.

Trebek: "I know the feeling. My den, my office is exactly the same as yours."

The episode's last couple of minutes offered a fast-cut, poignant tribute to Trebek's 36 years as we saw a montage of images that transformed Trebek from the dark-haired, mustachioed host of his early days to the white-haired, clean-shaven host of the present. The montage was accompanied by Hugh Jackman's version of "Once Before I Go" from Broadway's "The Boy from Oz'." ("Once before I go, I want you to know that I would do it all again..").

Then, the final goodbye appeared on screen: "Dedicated to Alex Trebek. Always in our hearts. Always our inspiration."

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