As the “Jeopardy!” Tournament of Champions quarterfinals come to a close Friday, the show has paid tribute to 24-year-old Brayden Smith, a five-day champion who was one of the last contestants to compete in the Alex Trebek era.
“You’ve now met all 15 of the players who qualified for the Tournament of Champions — well, almost all,” guest host Buzzy Cohen said in a video “Jeopardy!” released Friday. “Brayden Smith, the incredible young man who won five shows and $115,000 in January, passed away earlier this year. Brayden’s family has established a fund in his name and ‘Jeopardy!’ will be donating to that fund. We want to express our best wishes and condolences to his family.”
Smith died from surgery complications on Feb. 5 — about a month after his final “Jeopardy!” episode aired and three months after Trebek’s death from pancreatic cancer, the Deseret News reported. During his “Jeopardy!” run, Smith brought visible joy to Trebek as he buzzed through the clues and made bold wagers.
A 2020 graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Smith was looking forward to competing in the Tournament of Champions, according to his obituary.
“These people are sort of my trivia idols and to know that I’m going to be on the same metaphorical and literal stage that they were on is really something special,” Smith said during a “Jeopardy!” interview. “‘Jeopardy!’” is so much better than anything I could’ve even imagined. Every moment since I last was on the studio lot has been a moment that I’ve been wanting to get back on there.
“I’m really grateful for everything, all the opportunities that I had,” he added. “I was glad that I was able to show what I was capable of.”
Following the announcement that “Jeopardy!” would be donating to Smith’s memorial fund, which is dedicated to Southern Nevada students, Smith’s mother expressed her family’s gratitude on social media.
“Our family is deeply touched by @Jeopardy’s ToC tribute to Brayden and its pledge to support the Brayden Smith Memorial Fund,” she wrote. “What a formidable group of Champs. Brayden would feel honored to be counted among you.”
Our family is deeply touched by @Jeopardy’s ToC tribute to Brayden and its pledge to support the Brayden Smith Memorial Fund. What a formidable group of Champs. Brayden would feel honored to be counted among you. https://t.co/eJpsD4YGRY— Debbie Smith (@debbieinlv) May 21, 2021
Remembering this authentic and brilliant champion who would have joined us this week... https://t.co/bWQc8RUJxf— Buzzy Cohen (@buzztronics) May 21, 2021
In loving memory of Brayden Smith. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/a7CZaH31IJ— Jeopardy! (@Jeopardy) May 21, 2021
The Tournament of Champions semifinal round beings Monday. Three contestants will then compete in the two-day finals on May 27 and 28.