On Monday, January 4, the latest episode of Jeopardy! began with a message from Alex Trebek asking everyone to “open up your hands and open up your hearts” to people affected by COVID-19. “We’re trying to build a gentler, kinder society,” the longtime host said. “And if we all pitch in just a little bit, we’re going to get there.”

It was an especially moving statement coming from Trebek, who was receiving treatment for pancreatic cancer while filming that episode in fall 2020. Less than two weeks later, on November 8, he passed away from the disease. Last night’s episode was the first of Trebek’s final five episodes, which air this week. Friday’s program will be accompanied by a tribute to the beloved host, who emceed the game show for almost four decades.

In an appearance on TODAY, Jeopardy! executive producer Mike Richards described Trebek’s commitment to coming to the studio for what would be his final taping session as “Herculean.”

“He was in enormous pain. He was 10 days away from passing away,” Richards said. “And you will not sense any of that in these episodes. He is strong, he sounds great, he’s funny, and he’s amazing.”

The Los Angeles Times reports that Trebek had recently undergone surgery before the last taping, and he called Richards to reassure him that he was by all means still planning to show up to the studio to record a slate of new episodes. “‘I’ll be in to tape. I was able to eat Jell-O today,” Richards remembers Trebek saying. “‘Do not cancel. I will be there.’”

Watching Trebek’s final new episodes this week will no doubt remind fans just how difficult—or even impossible—it’ll be for producers to find a host who can match his trademark warmth, wit, and enthusiasm for the show and its contestants. Until they can find a permanent successor, they’ve planned a progression of guest hosts. The first is Jeopardy! GOAT—and Kennections author—Ken Jennings, whose first episode is set to air Monday, January 11.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]