Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings says that the show's producers misled him about his new guest-hosting stint. The former trivia champion returned to the show on Monday to host for three weeks, and he was not informed that his episodes would begin on the first anniversary of Alex Trebek's death. He said that he has experienced "every possible emotion now" relating to Jeopardy!
Jennings was the first guest host brought onto Jeopardy! last year when Trebek died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 80. He passed away on Nov. 8, making Monday the 1-year anniversary, and he believes that producers intentionally shielded him from that information while filming and promoting the episodes. However, when the anniversary rolled around they did not shy away from it on social media.
One year after Alex Trebek’s passing, Ken Jennings reflects on what Alex meant to him and the special gift he received from Alex’s wife, Jean.— Jeopardy! (@Jeopardy) November 8, 2021
We miss you every day, Alex. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/6hQkM4e4OH
"Apparently, everyone was aware that we were going to air (my first episode) on the anniversary and nobody told me," Jennings told USA Today on Tuesday. "They didn't want to put that in my head. So I was not told until after that it was the Nov. 8 show."
Jennings said that he taped this new round of episodes in September. Jeopardy! is in a strange state right now after it cast Mike Richards as its new permanent host, only to have him resign after fan backlash. Jennings said that hosting itself is still not an easy job, and it can still be intimidating to approach for him.
"You would like to say just like getting back on a bike, but it's a very tricky job," he said. The mechanics of hosting Jeopardy! are daunting. There's a lot going on at once, and Alex made it all look so easy. But I can tell you firsthand, it's not easy... [I] felt rusty; I hope I don't look rusty, but honestly, it was just such a delight to be back on that stage."
Still, Jennings said that it was easier to pick up after a string of temporary hosts than it was to take on the show last year as the first guest host to follow Trebek. He said that back then "I was just terrified, and I think rightfully so. I mean, Alex had just barely passed, and really no one else had hosted the show since 1974; like, literally, in my lifetime. I knew that it was going to be a very difficult task... much less the idea that you're trying to step into the shoes of Alex Trebek, which is impossible. This time, we're kind of a year removed or more from all that, so I've had every possible emotion now related to Jeopardy!"
For some fans, Jennings remains the top pick for the new permanent host of Jeopardy! When asked if he still wants the job, he humbly tried to avoid the question. Finally, he admitted that he would do it if asked, but said that he did not want to campaign for it.
"If my country called upon me to host Jeopardy! I would happily do my patriotic duty," he joked. "That show is my first love. I, even as a little kid, I would run home from school every day to watch. It's just a big part of who I am and the person I became, even before I was on the show. So it's just enormously flattering to be in the mix. And I feel like the show is in good hands, at this point, no matter what happens."
"You're not going to see me in the papers talking about how important it is that I ended up hosting. I would love it, but I honestly feel like, deep down, Jeopardy! is going to be OK either way," Jennings concluded. The game show airs on weeknights at 7 p.m. ET - check your local listings for the correct channel.