Alex Trebek is a difficult act to follow. Trebek hosted Jeopardy for 37 seasons since its revival in 1984. His passing was mourned by many as one of the most well known game show hosts to come along. There were many shake-ups in the conversation of who would be chosen to host the show next, but the mantle ultimately fell on Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik who will be cohosting the program through the end of 2021. Jennings is well known for being a previous winner of the game. This was a choice that would honor Trebek, but there was an additional surprise for Jennings. What the guest host did not know was that his first show would fall on the anniversary of Trebek’s death.
In an interview with USA Today, Jennings stated that this information was kept from him until after the taping. “They didn’t want to put that in my head,” Jennings said in the interview. “So I was not told until after that it was the November 8th show.” Jennings had been a contestant on Jeopardy many times and seemed like an obvious choice to step into the hosting chair, though his responsibilities differ from being a contestant. Trebek’s mantle is so significant that they decided on two guest hosts for the time being. Jennings was nervous to take on the large responsibility and wanted to live up to the previous host. In a touching caveat, Trebek’s widow Jean also wanted to honor her late husband’s memory. For Jennings’ taping, she gifted him a pair of Trebek’s cufflinks. Jennings says that they are the only pair of cufflinks that he owns.
So far Ken Jennings seems to be the safer choice for the lineup. No one is likely to forget how fraught with drama the choice for hosting duties was. Jennings was not in fact the first choice to host alongside Mayim Bialik. The initial choice was Mike Richards who was out faster than he was in. Richards was an executive producer, an odd choice for hosting responsibilities. Even odder still are the opinions he shared on a podcast that was not long enough ago to be forgotten. In 2014 Richards spoke on podcast The Randumb Show making disparagingly sexist comments about women. Of course this did not prove to be his only problematic behavior and he resigned quickly.
Jennings’ cohost Mayim Bialik has been under fire for previous comments she made in a 2009 People interview in which she said her family wasn’t vaccinated. She has walked this statement back in recent interviews but that is not the end of the viewers’ problems with her. Many saw her op-ed for the New York Times — which, in light of the Harvey Weinstein case, suggested women in Hollywood should dress more modestly to avoid sexual harassment and assault — was seen as tone deaf by many and the actress was accused of victim blaming.