Alex Trebek was many, many wonderful things. Chief among his attributes, however, was a legendary earnestness. The legend was so famously frank, in fact, that the Television Academy didn’t have to dig deep at all for Trebek to tell it straight when it came to ensnaring celebrities for Celebrity Jeopardy!.
“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 begins of the subject at the time.
“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…” he smiles. Without naming any names, of course.
And it is, after all, those very names that Celebrity Jeopardy! is after. Without big names, the show flounders. Trebek knew this, of course, as did/does the Jeopardy! production team. To grab fellow icons like Neal Patrick Harris and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Trebek revealed that Jeopardy! was in no way ashamed to placate.
‘And so we try to entice them…’
“Because our interest is in getting the celebrity. And that’s tough! It’s difficult on them,” Trebek offers.
“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?” he smiles. “Especially in response to what is, really, an easy clue.”
“And so we try to entice them,” he reveals. How so? “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.”
In this way, the late host adds at the time, that it’s “exciting” for the celebrity contestants. “They’re helping their charities, and most of the time they’re looking pretty good!”
Alex Trebek Revealed the ‘Best’ Contestants on ‘Celebrity Jeopardy!’
Through it all, Alex Trebek developed quite the list of strong Celebrity Jeopardy! contenders, too. Off the top of his head, the late host names Michael McKean as one of the strongest celebrities to ever play the game.
“He’s bright. And his wife, Annette O’Toole, sits in the audience and cheers him on. She’d probably be a good player, also,” he recalled of McKean & O’Toole.
“Jodie Foster was good,” the late hosts continued. “And some of the people from news and sports, because they deal with what’s happening now. And they deal with it as themselves. It’s not portraying a character. It’s difficult for actors to be themselves. Some of them don’t know they are!” he smiles.