Jeopardy’s Ken Jennings Opens Up About His Final Conversation With Alex Trebek

Ken Jennings has had as big of a role on Jeopardy! as anybody following the death of longtime host Alex Trebek. The record-holding Jeopardy! champion served as the quiz show’s first guest host ahead of a long and controversial search for a permanent replacement, before he and Mayim Bialik were granted full-time co-hosting duties for Season 39. Jennings’ relationship with the proud Canadian began back in 2004, when he was a contestant, and lasted for over a decade, as the new host recalled his last conversation with Trebek, which occurred just days before he passed away from pancreatic cancer.

The title-holder for Jeopardy!’s “Greatest Of All Time” revealed in an interview with Vulture that even ahead of Alex Trebek’s death, Ken Jennings had been asked to fill in for the host. The two spoke on the phone in regards to the handoff of duties, and Jennings opened up about how the iconic host sounded at the time. He said: 

It was the same weekend he passed away. I was scheduled to come into the studio to rehearse for some games; even if Alex bounced back as he had before, he wanted somebody to fill in for him for a little while. A producer set up a call, and his voice was notably weaker than we’d ever heard it on the air, which really struck me at first. It was a tough moment. But once you got over the timbre of the voice, he was still very much Alex — going down conversational side paths about old movies he liked.

Alex Trebek’s voice is so familiar to fans of the classic game show, and especially for people like Ken Jennings, who got to speak to him outside of the studio setting, I can imagine it was jarring to hear Trebek not at full strength. But it’s comforting to know that the host was still himself, and I love to think about those two discussing old movies together. Jennings continued: 

At one point, he started talking about tennis players he compared to various Jeopardy! champions. But the thing that stuck with me is he thanked me for coming in to fill in for him. That just broke me. I said, ‘Alex, are you kidding? We should be thanking you. I’d take a bullet for you, Alex. I’m happy to help.’ Of course, I didn’t know that he would be gone within 36 hours.

I can only imagine how meaningful that was for Ken Jennings to get the opportunity to express those words to Alex Trebek before he passed, and it sounds like the host knew he was leaving the show in capable hands.

The relationship that the show formed between the two men was one of the reasons many fans wanted to see the former champion take over the hosting role permanently. Arthur Chu, another former champ, pointed out that Alex Trebek had gifted Jennings his cufflinks and chosen him to narrate his audiobook, possibly tipping his hand to who he wanted as his successor. Super champ Mattea Roach also threw their support behind Jennings, as he — like Trebek — was considered Jeopardy! royalty among the contestants, and said it was special to be able to share the stage with him.

Ken Jennings did open the quiz show’s 39th season behind the lectern, and he’ll also host the upcoming Second Chance tournament, as well as the Tournament of Champions. Mayim Bialik, meanwhile, can be seen hosting Celebrity Jeopardy! at 8 p.m. ET Sundays on ABC. She’ll also take over duties on the daytime episodes in January. Be sure to check out our 2022 TV schedule to see what premieres are coming soon. 

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.