What Alex Trebek told Ken Jennings the night before he died
Jennings has been an official ‘Jeopardy!’ host, along with Mayim Bialik, for a little over a year. And he’s remembering advice the late host shared with him — a conversation that took place the night before Trebek’s death
Ken Jennings, who has more “Jeopardy!” wins than any other contestant in show history, was the first person to fill in as a guest host following the death of Alex Trebek — a role he said he was “beyond nervous” to take on at the time.
“Honestly, I’m with the audience. I don’t want me out here. I want to see Alex out here,” Jennings said in a brief “Jeopardy!” interview filmed shortly after Trebek’s death from pancreatic cancer nearly three years ago. “I know exactly how they feel when they see anybody else behind this lectern. But there are tens of millions of people who love this show. We love this show, Alex loved the show. I’m just happy to fill in and help out.”
Now, Jennings has been an official “Jeopardy!” host, along with Mayim Bialik, for a little over a year. And he’s remembering advice the late host shared with him — a conversation that took place the night before Trebek’s death.
They talked about Jennings acting as a guest host, something Jennings said he believed would be temporary.
“We thought, ‘Oh, he’s going to get better. He’s going to bounce back. He’ll be hosting again.’ I was just going to fill in,” Jennings said in a recent episode of “The Last Podcast on the Left,” per USA Today.
“He gave me the impression he always did over the years, which was that he did not want to be the center of attention on ‘Jeopardy!’” Jennings continued. “He was never announced as the star of ‘Jeopardy!’ He was always the host of ‘Jeopardy!’ because he thought the game itself and the contestants should be the star.”
Jennings said it’s advice he’s taken to heart.
“This should not be about me,” he said, according to USA Today. “This should be about these three people and the clues and that’s what people want.”
The special friendship between Ken Jennings and Alex Trebek
In Trebek’s memoir that came out a few months before his death, he wrote that he got to know Jennings better than most “Jeopardy!” contestants. Jennings had a legendary 75-game “Jeopardy!” run in 2004 — meaning Trebek interacted with him significantly more than most contestants.
The late host admitted he was a little emotional when a question about H&R Block finally dethroned the then-30-year-old software engineer from Salt Lake City, the Deseret News reported.
“I had tears in my eyes,” he wrote. “It just all happened so quickly. Ken lost. … The show ended. I remember thinking, ‘Ken’s gone. My buddy. My pal. This was getting to be “The Ken and Alex Show.”’”
Trebek said there was a common misconception that he interacted a lot with the show’s contestants. But taping five games a day and changing suits between each episode, there was really no time to interact, other than during the actual filming, per the Deseret News.
But Jennings kept coming back — and so did the viewers. During his run, the show’s ratings increased 22% compared to the same period the previous year, Trebek said.
As a contestant, Jennings was on the show for 16 weeks — 37 hours of filming. Trebek said he started running out of questions to ask during the show’s interview segment, and Jennings would come up with ideas to help him out. The “Jeopardy!” host said it even got to the point that Jennings had to start making up some anecdotes, like how he enjoys airline food.
“We got to know each other and feel comfortable with each other,” Trebek wrote. “He’s somebody I genuinely liked as a contestant on the program.”
Ken Jennings hosting status
Amid the writers and actors strikes, Jennings will continue to be the sole host of “Jeopardy!” going into the new season, which premieres Sept. 11.
Last season, Bialik, known for her roles in sitcoms like “The Big Bang Theory” and “Call Me Kat,” stepped down from hosting during the final week of filming in support of the strikes, the Deseret News previously reported. Jennings took over and filmed the final 20 episodes of the season, according to The Jeopardy Fan website.
The clues for those “Jeopardy!” games had been written in advance of the season and writers strike, according to Deadline.
“Our last week of shows was already locked,” Jennings previously told the Deseret News. “We could be above board and just shoot the last week of scripts that had already been written.
The new season will recycle clues from its archives and use new clues that were written prior to the strike, the Deseret News reported.
“‘Jeopardy!’ has a long history with and tremendous respect for the WGA and our writers,” Sony Pictures Television said in a statement, per USA Today. “We have always been careful to honor our WGA agreements and we would never air game material not created by WGA writers. However, just as we did, led by Alex Trebek, during the 2007-2008 strike, we will deliver first-run episodes again this fall.”
Jennings will also step in for Bialik as host of “Celebrity Jeopardy!” The new season premieres in late September.
Clues for the new “Celebrity Jeopardy!” season were written before the strike, USA Today reported.
“Although many celebrities are SAG members, their work on the show is covered by a separate labor agreement and not subject to the strike,” per USA Today.