“Jeopardy!” is deep into filming for its upcoming season, and on a recent episode of the podcast “Inside Jeopardy!” Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik opened up about the pressures and rewards of hosting a quiz show that is a staple in millions of viewers’ homes.
How Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik feel about hosting ‘Jeopardy!’
“It’s overwhelming, but in a really good way,” Bialik said, noting that she was excited to share the responsibility with a “Jeopardy!” “legend” like Jennings.
Jennings’ history with the show goes back to his childhood — he would rush home from school every day to watch “Jeopardy!” per the Deseret News. In 2004, he became the show’s winningest contestant with an incredible 74-game winning streak, and 16 years after that, he claimed the “Jeopardy!” Greatest of All Time title in a tournament with fellow “Jeopardy!” greats James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter.
But despite his “Jeopardy!” Hall of Fame status, Jennings simply considers himself to be an avid fan of the show.
“Like to this day I feel like a fan,” he said. “I wouldn’t be the person I am without all the ‘Jeopardy!’ I watched as a kid, and then of course it changed my life in a big way 20 years ago. It’s just an honor to be associated with this show in any way.”
What Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik said about criticism
Both Jennings and Bialik hosted “Jeopardy!” this past season, when Mike Richards, the show’s former executive producer, was ousted after past controversies came to light. It didn’t take long for them to realize that the “Jeopardy!” fanbase is passionate — particularly when it comes to who is standing behind the hosting lectern. Countless articles online and remarks on social media have debated the strengths and weaknesses of their hosting styles.
“I mean, we’re still people. I can’t say that when you hear things that are constructive criticisms that you don’t start thinking a little too much about it,” Bialik said. “But I don’t know, I kind of take everybody’s opinion both with a grain of salt but also believe everybody has a right to their opinion.”
Jennings said he first discovered the passionate “Jeopardy!” fandom when he was a contestant, recalling how some viewers didn’t enjoy watching him and would make comments like, “I’m sick of this guy already.”
“And I’m like, ‘Oh, there’s like three more months of this. This guy’s going to have a bad summer,’” Jennings said. “I just kind of had to dissociate. ‘Jeopardy’s!’’ got such a big diverse audience, you’re not going to be able to please everybody every night. But I think that’s the virtue of having a couple hosts.”
What it’s like hosting ‘Jeopardy!’
As a host, Jennings has found that he sometimes gets the same “intense adrenaline experience” that he had as a contestant.
“When the games get really good out here, when the three players are really cooking, and it’s intense and it’s close, I kind of feel like I’m in there playing,” he said. “You’re part of the game, you’re part of the show. There’s this transcendent thing that happens where the audience is locked in, and I just live for that.”
But hosting “Jeopardy!” especially in the wake of the late Alex Trebek, can also come with a substantial amount of pressure: Pressure to make sure the game runs smoothly, pressure to ensure the contestants feel comfortable and pressure to make the right calls on the contestants’ responses to the clues.
“I watched Alex do it up close and I didn’t understand the kind of ease and grace he had,” Jennings said. “Because you’re doing so many things at once, right? You’re trying to run the show for the contestants, so you’re part of the game ... but you’re also trying to interpret it for the folks at home, and so it’s like you’re a sportscaster, almost. And it goes so fast.”
“It really does go fast,” Bialik added. “I think people don’t realize how many things you’re calculating as host.
“There’s many opportunities for, ‘Oh my gosh, that was the wrong thing to say,’” she continued, noting that “it feels very embarrassing” when the show has to go back and edit a mistake she made during filming. “I think people are like, ‘Oh she’s’ a celebrity, or ‘Oh, she’s got a Ph.D., she shouldn’t make simple math errors.’ But sometimes I do, and it’s very stressful!”
How filming for the new ‘Jeopardy!’ season is going
At the time of the podcast episode, “Jeopardy!” had filmed 25 episodes of the new season, which premieres Sept. 12.
For the first time in 2.5 years — since the start of the pandemic — “Jeopardy!” once again has a studio audience. Jennings said stepping onto the Alex Trebek Stage to the cheers of fans was a special moment.
“It really threw me at first,” he said, joking that he was used to the “polite, bored clapping” from crew members. “The burst of applause of people who were just so happy to be back at ‘Jeopardy,’ it really moved me and I totally forgot what I was going to say, and I had to come out and do my opening again because I was so touched.”
Bialik will host “Celebrity Jeopardy!” which premieres Sept. 25. Although she hosted a decent amount of “Jeopardy!” last season, she said the nerves have yet to dissipate.
“I’d like to get less nervous as things go on,” she said with a laugh. It seems like I’m kind of maintaining a level of anxious excitement that may just keep going.”
“I never feel relaxed out here,” Jennings added.
But even amid all the nerves and criticism and complexities of hosting a show like “Jeopardy!” both Jennings and Bialik ultimately feel a great deal of gratitude to now be a part of the show’s legacy.
“A lot of people plan their day around ‘Jeopardy!’ it’s an exciting little treat for them,” Jennings said. “It’s important to people and it’s nice to feel like you’re kind of part of their day and their household as well. That’s very flattering. ‘Jeopardy!’s guaranteed to last, unlike a lot of other things during this time.”