James Holzhauer, the “Jeopardy!” champion who won 32 straight games, earning a total of $2,462,216, has donated a portion of his winnings to a Chicago-area pancreatic cancer walk.
And he did so in Alex Trebek’s name.
Here’s how it happened: During what would be the contestant’s final episode, Trebek praised Holzhauer’s daughter for a handmade card. “I want to express my thanks to your beautiful little daughter, Natasha, for having made this get-well card for me,” Trebek said in the beginning of the show. “That was very sweet of her.”
Ann Zediker, a resident of Holzhauer’s former town and fundraiser in the walk, told CNN that she was watching the show and, aware of Holzhauer’s connection to Naperville — the champ is a former resident — decided she would reach out and invite him to the 2019 Naperville Pancreatic Cancer Research Walk on July 14.
“At the end of the day, I had nothing to lose,” Zediker, who lost her father in 2010 to pancreatic cancer, told CNN. “My heart told me it was the right thing to do.”
Holzhauer told her he would be unable to participate in the event. However, he sent her a donation for $1,109.14. Holzhauer wrote the message, “For Alex Trebek and all the other survivors.”
At first, Zediker was confused by the dollar amount. But then it dawned on her — the number represented his daughter Natasha’s birthday.
“There was no expectation on my end,” she told CNN. “I was just thrilled that he responded. I knew that Alex’s story had an impact on him, just like it has an impact on anyone who’s working with a family member who’s going through pancreatic cancer.”
The walk is organized by the Lustgarten Foundation, which is the largest private funder of pancreatic cancer research. Pancreatic cancer has one of the lowest survival rates, and is an extremely difficult disease to overcome.
Alex Trebek is hanging in there.
The “Jeopardy!” host was upbeat in an interview with “Good Morning America” on Wednesday during which he talked about how he’s dealing with stage 4 pancreatic cancer with rounds of chemotherapy and support from fans. He announced on March 6 he had been diagnosed with cancer.
Trebek said one of the hardest parts of the disease is the chemotherapy, because he wasn’t expecting the “surges of deep, deep sadness” that he experiences after treatment. He told anchor Robin Roberts that “there’s nothing wrong with saying ‘Hey, I’m really depressed today and I have no idea why.’”
Trebek joked that he’s discovered during his treatment that he’s a “bit of a wuss” and said he feels weak “all the time.” But he said he’s optimistic about his future: “The numbers that indicate the cancer … are coming down,” he said.
“It is something I am inflicted with. We are dealing with it chemically and spiritually and those are positives. Hopefully everything is going to turn out well,” he said.
Trebek was also grateful for fans’ feedback. “I’ve had so many contacts from people who have survived cancer for [several] years,” he said. “I am now a 30-day cancer survivor… and they have been inspiration to me.”
Viewers have been sharing “advice, good thoughts, and prayers” with him, he said, and he feels it is “making a difference.”
“Things have changed immensely over the years,” he said, adding he’s hoping to raise awareness of the “devastating” cancer. “Doctors keep coming up with new cures and pretty soon we’re going to wind up with the cure.”
Trebek also joked that he timed his diagnosis with the end of the show’s season so he has the summer to recuperate. He plans on returning to host the show after its hiatus.
This season of the show has been making news with the winning streak of contestant James Holzhauer. Holzhauer won his 19th game Tuesday night bringing his cumulative winning to $1,426,330.
Trebek said Holzhauer could break Ken Jennings’ 74-day game record, which he previously believed to be impossible.
“I look at James and say, ‘Oh my God, look at what he’s doing,’” he said.
Still, Holzhauer has a while to go until he beats Jennings’ record. Trebek said the streak record is “the tough part” because it’s “easy” for contestants to win lots of money on the show if they hit the Daily Doubles. “That’s what America should focus on,” he said.