‘Jeopardy!’ champ who brought joy to Alex Trebek’s final games has died
Brayden Smith, the ruthless “Jeopardy!” contestant Alex Trebek dubbed “Billy Buzzsaw” because of his ability to cut through his competition, has died. He was 24
Smith was a five-day champion, and one of the last to compete in the Trebek “Jeopardy!” era. Many fans compared him to James Holzhauer because of his tendency to land on the Daily Doubles and his fearlessness in making large wagers.
Trebek, who was undergoing treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer at the time, was visibly delighted by Smith’s abilities.
“Most impressive, I don’t know what to say,” the 80-year-old host said at one point during Smith’s run.
“I’d like to think that Brayden was a final gift to Alex Trebek. He loved a great champion,” one “Jeopardy!” viewer wrote, according to Decider.
“It makes me really happy that Alex Trebek got a contestant like Brayden on some of his last shows,” another “Jeopardy!” fan wrote.
Smith died Feb. 5 — about a month after his final “Jeopardy!” episode aired. A cause of death has not been revealed. According to his obituary, Smith had a lifelong dream to be a five-time champion on “Jeopardy!” — a feat that guarantees a spot in the show’s “Tournament of Champions.”
“We are heartbroken to share that our dear Brayden Smith recently passed away unexpectedly,” Smith’s mom, Debbie Smith, wrote on Twitter Friday. “We are so grateful that Brayden was able to live out his dream on @jeopardy.”
On Friday afternoon, “Jeopardy!” posted a tribute to the contestant, calling him “kind, funny and absolutely brilliant.”
Brayden Smith recently told The Ringer that he tried to get on “Jeopardy!” at least a dozen times, applying for Kids’ Week and the teen and college tournaments.
“I remember being really bad at it at first,” he said. “In my defense, I was in elementary school.”
Once he finally made it on the show, Smith won $115,798 during his five-game winning streak. He 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.”
Smith’s death comes about three months after Trebek’s death. The “Jeopardy!” contestant has said that the late host was a “mainstay” in his life.
“The best part of it for me was spending time with him,” Smith said during a “Jeopardy!” interview. “To finally be on stage with somebody that I’ve seen five nights a week every week for over a decade was really a dream come true.”
Tributes to Smith began flooding social media when the news of his death broke, including a post from fellow recent “Jeopardy!” champion Burt Thakur, who credits “Jeopardy!” with teaching him English.
I’m stunned to hear of Brayden Smith’s death. Brayden was an exemplary multiple #Jeopardy champion, 24 and about to go to law school. In our brief online interactions, he was kind and jovial. He had his whole life ahead. My ❤️ goes to the Smith family. #braydensmith#Jeopardy pic.twitter.com/Xhh8xMfDd7— Burt Thakur (@albertthakur) February 12, 2021
On Friday evening, Holzhauer shared that he would match the first $10,000 in donations to Brayden’s memorial fund for Southern Nevada students.
Absolutely devastated by the tragic loss of one of Jeopardy’s finest players and Las Vegas’s finest humans.— James Holzhauer (@James_Holzhauer) February 13, 2021
Please consider a donation to Brayden’s memorial fund for Southern Nevada students. I will match the first $10,000.https://t.co/qjUKJXi8RY https://t.co/dE0reoR9CQ
The JEOPARDY! family is heartbroken by the tragic loss of Brayden Smith. He was kind, funny and absolutely brilliant. Our deepest condolences go out to Brayden’s family. He will be missed.— Jeopardy! (@Jeopardy) February 12, 2021
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that winning five “Jeopardy!” games was a requirement for the “Tournament of Champions.” While it guarantees a contestant a spot in the tournament, it is not a requirement.