Ken Jennings, famed for his 74-game winning streak on “Jeopardy!” and now its host, sat down with CBS News to discuss taking over the show, previously helmed by Alex Trebek for 37 seasons.

Jennings was not initially selected for the hosting role. After a series of guest hosts, including Jennings, he and “The Big Bang Theory” star Mayim Bialik were chosen.

However, Bialik was removed from the position due to executive producers seeking more “consistency,” according to People. The hosting duties then fell solely to Jennings.

“Over the past two-and-a-half seasons, what we’ve heard from a lot of television stations and other interested parties is that they wanted more consistency,” “Jeopardy!” executive producer Michael Davies said during a panel at the 2024 Television Critics Association, per People. “They wanted a single host.”

In his CBS interview, Jennings likened taking over the role of “Jeopardy!” host to the plot of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” where one child over several others is chosen to inherit Willy Wonka’s chocolate empire.

“And I was the one that didn’t get sucked up the pipe,” he said.

A lifelong love for game shows

Jennings’ passion for game shows began in his childhood, watching “Jeopardy!” on the Armed Forces Network in Korea and Singapore, where he spent 15 years of his youth, according to his website.

“It was a version of the world with well-defined roles, where you could watch a few of them and understand the format,” Jennings told CBS. “And as a kid dealing with a confusing world, well game shows, game shows are different, questions get answered almost immediately.”

“For a right answer there’s a nice little ping,” he continued. “For a wrong answer there’s an immediate buzz. It’s not like life, which is messy. Game shows are neat and fun and easy.”

From contestant to host

Jennings’ enthusiasm for game shows followed him into college, where he captained Brigham Young University’s quiz bowl team and wrote and edited questions for National Academic Quiz Tournaments.

According to his website, Jennings noticed some of his friends and acquaintances make it onto game shows like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and use their winnings to pay off loans and buy expensive cars.

Then, after marrying his wife, Mindy, and starting a family while working as a software engineer, Jennings decided to try out for “Jeopardy!” himself by taking the contestant exam.

“When I got the call a year later saying, ‘Hey, we’d like to have you on in three weeks,’ I freaked out,” he told CBS. “I started watching the show very intensely, standing up behind my La-Z-Boy at home pretending it was a podium, mashing my thumb up and down on a Fisher-Price plastic toy I’d stolen from our 18-month-old just pretending it was a buzzer.”

“It was kind of a ‘Rocky’ training montage,” he added.

The enduring legacy of Alex Trebek and ‘Jeopardy!’

Jennings believes he has one advantage over Trebek when it comes to hosting “Jeopardy!” — his ability to empathize with the players, having been in their shoes many times, according to CBS.

However, he acknowledges Trebek’s enduring legacy, which is impossible to compare to.

“He had this amazing minimalist kind of light touch where he never wanted the focus to be on himself, which is such an unusual, beautiful thing in show business,” Jennings told CBS. “Nobody’s ever going to do that job as well as he did it.”

Jennings also emphasized the universal appeal of “Jeopardy!” and its role in bringing together a nation that at times can be divided.

“Old people like ‘Jeopardy!’, young people like ‘Jeopardy!’, red states, blue states, it’s bizarrely universal,” he said. “America still agrees that there’s like a half-hour every day where facts do matter, and we’re allowed to adjudicate things as right or wrong based on science and history. And I do think that’s an important bulwark.”