‘Jeopardy!’: Alex Trebek Explained Why Actors Have a Hard Time on Show Compared to Other Celebrities

by Will Shepard

Alex Trebek was the legendary host of Jeopardy! for 37 years. In his time, he made it become one of the most popular game shows on television. He was also instrumental in making the celebrity version happen.

In late 1996, Alex Trebek hosted the first-ever Celebrity Jeopardy! It was a big hit with game show’s fans. But, it was hard to get celebrities to come on the show. They were afraid of missing easy questions and looking dumb.

However, some celebrities fared much better than others on Jeopardy! In particular, some actors struggled immensely compared to other celebrities. So, in an interview in 2011 with Television Academy, Trebek explained why this was the case.

He begins the explanation by stating that the people who deal with issues in real-time often do well. He said, “Some of the people who work in news and sports because they deal with what’s happening now, and they deal with it as themselves, not portraying a character.”

“It’s difficult, sometimes, for actors to be themselves,” the host of Jeopardy! explained. “Some of them don’t know who they are. They can give you a character, but they can’t give you themselves. So that makes it tough for them. And, keep in mind that it’s an ego thing. You don’t want to look bad on camera.”

Alex Trebek Explained How He Would Convince Celebrities to Join “Jeopardy!”

In this same 2011 interview, Trebek gave his honest insight into the inner workings of Celebrity Jeopardy! One of the hardest parts of the job was apparently getting celebrities to come on the game show.

Trebek explained how he would entice Hollywood’s big names for the celebrity spinoff version. He prefaced the explanation with how the show usually conducts interviews.

“For our regular contestants, we give you a test. And if you don’t pass the test, you’re not going to be a contestant on the program,” Trebek explained.

“I often joke when people ask me, ‘Well, do celebrities have to take a test?’ And I say ‘Yes! They have to be able to spell their name correctly…” the host of Celebrity Jeopardy! said with a smile.

Trebek knew the importance of attracting big celebrities for the game show. So, he never held any grudges about catering to celebrities’ wishes. He explained how he was never ashamed to humor the celebrities he wanted on the show.

Getting Celebrities on the Game Show

“Because our interest is in getting the celebrity,” Trebek said. “And that’s tough! It’s difficult on them.”

The legendary Jeopardy! host continued, “They don’t want to get out there and embarrass themselves. They don’t want to get on camera in front of a nationwide audience and appear to, you know, be kinda’ dumb? Especially in response to what is, really, an easy clue.”

“And so we try to entice them,” he explained without hesitation. “By increasing the amounts that will be donated to charities. We do it at the Radio City Music Hall where they’re appearing in front of 4-5,000 people in the live studio audience.”

So, Trebek said that Jeopardy! would make it as “exciting” as possible for the celebrity guests. He said that explained that adding big donations to charity was key in getting celebrities to join the game show.

“They’re helping their charities, and most of the time, they’re looking pretty good!”