Ken Jennings on Mayim Bialik, Sharing ‘Jeopardy!’ Hosting, and Special Bond with Alex Trebek

Ken Jennings

Jeopardy!‘s greatest player of all time, Ken Jennings, is opening up about becoming the show’s permanent co-host, his relationship with Mayim Bialik, succeeding the late Alex Trebek, and how he sees the show evolving over the next few years.

In a new interview with Vulture, Jennings spoke about his final conversation with Trebek, which took place the same weekend he died. “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,” Jennings said. He noted that Trebek’s voice was weak but that “he was still very much Alex.”

“But the thing that stuck with me is he thanked me for coming in to fill in for him,” Jennings continued. “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.”

Jennings was the first guest host to fill in following Trebek’s passing, which he revealed filled him with panic. “[Trebek] had done the job so perfectly for decades, and suddenly, within weeks of his passing, I had to step in as a substitute,” he stated. “It was really nerve-wracking. It’s a difficult job.”

Despite his concerns, Jennings had a lot of encouragement from friends and colleagues, including Trebek’s widow, Jean, who sent him a pair of her husband’s cufflinks and a note of support. “It must have been a super hard time for her, and she was thinking about the poor schmuck trying to do her late husband’s old job. That was such a lovely gesture.”

Earlier this year, Jennings and Bialik were officially named Jeopardy!‘s new permanent hosts. “I wish we had some unifying Alex Trebek type that everyone agreed was perfect for the job, but in his absence, it’s going to take two of us to do his job,” Jennings said.

The former champion described hosting Jeopardy! as his “dream job,” but also noted Bialik’s importance in the role. “My sense, from talking to her, is that she’s very proud to represent women, particularly in STEM fields, where there isn’t a great gender balance,” he said. “There’s no better platform than Jeopardy! for honoring knowledge and education.”

He added, “The one thing I don’t love about me in the role is that we saw a white guy do it for 37 years and times are different now. Mayim takes that part of the job very seriously and also clearly enjoys it.”

As for the future of the show, Jennings highlighted Michael Davies‘ (the show’s executive producer) background in sports and how he’s bringing that mindset to Jeopardy! “It has champions, it has tournaments, it has statistics. You’re going to see more of that. Hosting the Tournament of Champions is such a thrill because you’re seeing the game played at the highest possible level. It’s our World Series. I want more moments like that.”

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