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Jeopardy Apparently Kept A Big Secret From Ken Jennings For His First Episodes Back As Host

November 8 was a somber milestone in the Jeopardy! lexicon, as the date marked the one-year anniversary of legendary host Alex Trebek’s death from pancreatic cancer. It also, coincidentally, was former Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings’ first appearance back behind the podium, as he’s temporarily assuming hosting duties from Mayim Bialik, who’s been holding down the role since Sony cut ties with Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune executive producer Mike Richards. But it turns out Jennings was kept out of the loop regarding the significant air date of his first day back.

Ken Jennings, who earned over $2.5 million in his record-setting 74-day run on Jeopardy! in 2004, is set to replace Mayim Bialik as Jeopardy! host for three weeks — part of a co-hosting deal they made after Alex Trebek’s would-be replacement Mike Richards was fired after only one day as the show’s host. And while the crew around Jennings was aware that his first episode back would fall on the anniversary of Alex Trebek’s death, they kept that piece of information to themselves, Jennings told USA TODAY.

Apparently, everyone was aware that we were going to air (my first episode) on the anniversary and nobody told me. They didn't want to put that in my head. So I was not told until after that it was the Nov. 8 show.

Ken Jennings was already having to dust off his hosting skills, after he served as the initial guest host for six weeks following Alex Trebek’s death. Jeopardy! then went through an audition process of sorts, bringing in a number of guest hosts from all walks of the entertainment business — from LeVar Burton to Aaron Rodgers to Katie Couric — before settling on executive producer Mike Richards to be the full-time replacement. But Richards’ stint didn’t last long, as offensive comments he made on his podcast, The Randumb Show, in 2013 resurfaced, causing him to be removed from the hosting and EP positions.

Mayim Bialik, who’d been named as Jeopardy! host of tournaments and primetime episodes, was shifted over to daytime host, with Ken Jennings agreeing to split hosting duties with her until another permanent solution was reached. Having been through such a wild ride with the show over the past year, Ken Jennings said he already knew the task in front of him, even without thinking about the emotions of the impending anniversary.

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!

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since we’ve lost Alex Trebek, and the drama surrounding the search for his replacement was disappointing at best. It hasn’t all been bad though, as there’s been some fun social media ribbing from other past Jeopardy! champions, as well as a new addition to the quiz show’s Top 10 winningest contestants in Matt Amodio. Amodio’s 38-game win streak is almost overshadowed by the fact that his stint on the show saw six different hosts — Robin Roberts, LeVar Burton, David Faber, Joe Buck, Mike Richards and Mayim Bialik. That’s likely a Jeopardy! accomplishment no one else will ever have. 

Check your local listings to see Ken Jennings back as the guest host of Jeopardy!, and be sure to check out our 2021 TV Schedule for all shows premiering through the end of the year.

Heidi Venable

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Can usually be found rewatching The West Wing instead of doing anything productive.