Searching for Alex Trebek
Celebrities compete for the privilege of hosting Jeopardy!
The clue: This gameshow is currently conducting the most high-profile job search in America. The correct response: What is Jeopardy!? Over the last few months, the popular quiz show has become a reality show in which top TV personalities vie for the right to step into the big shoes Alex Trebek left behind.
Trebek, the longtime and beloved host of Jeopardy!, announced in March 2019 he had pancreatic cancer. His prognosis was grim, but he promised to keep hosting the show as long as he could. Trebek made good on that promise throughout his battle with cancer. After taking the show’s reins in 1984, Trebek taped his final episodes on Oct. 29, 2020—just 10 days before he died.
Jeopardy!’s producers decided to take their time in naming a successor. Instead of choosing a host to replace Trebek in the very next episode, they decided to audition a variety of hosts and let all America watch. In this season, 15 temporary hosts take the helm, usually for two weeks at a time. One will become the permanent host when the show starts taping its next season at the end of the summer.
Most of the candidates are TV personalities or actors who know how to address the camera. But the first host to try his hand was already the show’s second most well-known person. Ken Jennings captured America’s attention when he won 74 consecutive games in 2004. He led the show for six weeks at the beginning of 2021 with strong ratings and generally favorable reviews before handing over the job to the other candidates. So far, Katie Couric, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Anderson Cooper, and 60 Minutes’s Bill Whitaker have appeared on Jeopardy! In coming weeks America will see many more actors and TV personalities try their hand at hosting.
Fans and Nielsen ratings point to Jennings and Rodgers as the front runners so far. But without naming names, executive producer Mike Richards implied no one should bet on Rodgers. Richards knows what it’s like to host the show—he had to step in due to delays in lining up the others. He told the Wall Street Journal podcast that the next host of Jeopardy! should view the role as a full-time job, not a side hustle. Trebek was involved with every stage of the show’s production. Rodgers may not be happy at Green Bay at the moment, but it seems unlikely the NFL’s current MVP won’t play somewhere in the fall.
Richards said the most important trait in a Jeopardy! host is credibility. Viewers need to believe the host knows what he or she is talking about, especially since the host decides whether or not to accept a questionable answer. Jennings and Rodgers (as well as Richards himself) projected credibility on stage during their turns. This qualification explains why other hosts haven’t fared so well: Dr. Oz and Anderson Cooper sport the lowest ratings so far, and they often garner suspicion from opposite sides of the political spectrum.
Richards claims there is no leading contender and says it’s unlikely someone outside the group of 15 guest hosts will get the job. The heads of Sony will make the final decision based on data collected from episodes, focus groups, ratings, and social media reaction.
No matter who gets the job, everyone involved recognizes the new host will be standing in Trebek’s shadow. At the beginning of his first episode as temporary host, Jennings said, “No one will ever replace the great Alex Trebek, but we can honor him by playing the game he loved.”
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