‘Jeopardy!’ Host Ken Jennings Has Emotional Reaction to Season 39 Premiere

by Craig Garrett
(Ron Batzdorff via Getty Images)

New Jeopardy! co-host Ken Jennings had an emotional response when he took the stage for the season 39 debut. Though Jennings has been on the iconic stage many times over the years, something was different on this occasion. He cites his response to the return of the studio audience after more than two years as the reason for his reaction.

“That first game of this season, I walked out and people just went bonkers and I just started to cry,” Jennings told Good Morning America. “This game means so much to people. And there was just this visceral wave of love and energy. I’ll be thinking about that for the rest of my life.”

In July, the show officially announced that Jennings and Mayim Bialik would be co-hosting starting Season 39. This was just a couple of months before its September premiere, and due to COVID, there were no studio audiences for a while. The two had frequently stepped in as guest hosts, especially after Mike Richards was fired from the show for old, resurfaced offensive comments.

Ken Jennings on keeping the Jeopardy! continuity

Alex Trebek, the game show host who hosted the program for 37 years before passing away in 2020, is difficult to replace. However, Jennings feels like the show has managed to keep itself together. “We miss Alex every day,” Jennings said. “But luckily, it still feels like Jeopardy! The people here are so good at their jobs. They kept the continuity.”

Bialik divulged the many ways in which they plan to keep Trebek’s memory and accomplishments alive. “I think for both of us, we feel like we’re really ushering in what Alex facilitated so beautifully, which is, again, highlighting contestants and the show that people know and love. I think for me and Ken, we do love the purity and the fun Jeopardy! has been and will continue to be,” she explained.

Jennings compared the job to that of a sportscaster, arguing they must not only represent the players while steering the game but also interpret the action for viewers at home. When surrounded by so much intellect, Jennings said it’s especially demeaning when he makes a stupid mistake. “Smart contestant, smart audience, and then on the toss to commercial, I, like, say my name wrong or something, and I’m like, ‘What is even happening?'”

Alex Trebek’s death has undoubtedly touched both co-hosts, but Ken Jennings is indisputably a major part of the show’s history. In the 2020 GOAT Tournament, he defeated Brad Rutter and James Holzhauer to become the Greatest of All Time champion, with 74 consecutive victories in a row. That is a point that Mayim Bialik is well aware of. “When it comes to being here, I think especially because of the legacy,” she explained. “The legacy of Alex, and the legacy of Ken — you know, it’s a lot of pressure.”