Jennings splits Jeopardy! hosting duties with Mayim Bialik. But when asked by a reporter from Vulture, Jennings ponders whether the long-time host wanted him to be his successor. Trebek’s widow, Jean, gifted Jennings with a pair of her husband’s cuff links. And the Vulture reporter wondered whether it was the host’s way of choosing the next host.
“I don’t want to put words in anybody’s mouth,” Jennings said. “But over the years, I did get the sense that it was an idea that wouldn’t have annoyed Alex. He asked me to read his audiobook when his voice wasn’t up to doing every chapter towards the end. I felt like that was a very nice gesture of successorship that he didn’t have to make.”
As any Jeopardy! fan knows, Jennings defines the show from the eyes of any contestant. After all, Jennings won more than $4.5 million while he competed on the series. In 2004, the now 48-year-old Jennings won 74 straight matches on the quiz show, averaging nearly 36 correct responses per episode. So who better to stand at the podium and provide the answers to each correct question?
Jeopardy!, after a drawn-out process, eventually selected Jennings and Bialik as co-hosts. Maybe it was the easiest way out. Jennings says it now feels “pretty natural” to split the duties. “It’s a hard job,” he says.
Alex Trebek died of pancreatic cancer on Nov. 8, 2020. He’d worked as Jeopardy! host almost until the day he died. And Jennings still vividly remembers the final conversation the two had. Jennings said Trebek’s voice was noticeably weaker. Maybe he also was saying good bye.
“The thing that stuck with me is he thanked me for coming in to fill in for him,” Jennings said. “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.’”
So when he walks into the Jeopardy! studio and steps on the stage renamed for Trebek, Jennings does wonder if the old host still is hanging around to oversee his master piece of a quiz show. Jennings said Trebek even believed in ghosts.
“You do kind of feel like he must be in the building,” Jennings told Vulture. “It’s not quite the same as a spectral form peering around a corner and saying, ‘No, no, what is Bucharest? Bucharest, Romania.’ But it’s nice to feel like he’s still there and part of the show.”
The virtue of it is that Jeopardy! has a huge audience and a really diverse one. Young folks, old folks, red states, blue states. It’s a weird TV show today because a huge swath of the country watches it and hosting style is largely a matter of personal taste. All those millions of people don’t agree on the right vibe for Jeopardy!, so by bringing multiple hosts out, you give people a variety. 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.