Ranking The Jeopardy! Guest Hosts
Jeopardy!'s first attempt at a guest host tryout ended...poorly. Still, it's worth ranking every host who tried their hand at replacing the great Alex Trebek.
When Jeopardy! GOAT contestant Brad Rutter spoke to Den of Geek earlier this year, he shared his opinion that there is only one perfect Jeopardy! host to replace the departed Alex Trebek.
“Alex,” Rutter said. “But we can’t do it, unfortunately. That’s one of the terrible things about it. I can’t even really imagine what it’s going to be like.”
Alex Trebek was about as irreplaceable as a TV personality can be. As the host and quiz master of Jeopardy! for 37 years, the Canadian entertainer was the perfect combination of studious, professional, and playful. Following Trebek’s death from pancreatic cancer in November 2020, Jeopardy!’s producers realized there was no point in replacing the TV giant with only one host. That’s why they ultimately decided to go with a roster of multiple guest hosts for the show’s 37th season.
This was, in part, to pay tribute to Trebek’s genius but also to audition his replacement…or so they said. For, as we all know now, the open tryout seemed to be a little more close-ended than viewers were initially led to believe. Executive producer Mike Richards ultimately won the top job (with Mayim Bialik getting some primetime Jeopardy! gigs as well), which immediately called into question how fair the competition was. Richards maintained that he had no part in the selection process, but journalist and Jeopardy! expert Clair McNear with The Ringer confirmed that Richards was in charge of selecting the episodes to send to focus groups for each host including himself.
Then there were the podcasts…oh the podcasts. Through 41 episodes of Richards’ “The Randumb Show” podcast, the erstwhile host said some decidedly offensive and spicy things. Eventually Trebek’s replacement resigned after having filmed the first five episodes for season 38.
Like we said: it was a whole thing. But while Jeopardy!‘s guest hosting experiment was underway, it was certainly fun to take in. So much fun in fact that we decided to rank all 16 guest host in realtime. Granted, some of these picks haven’t aged particularly well. Still, it’s fun to look back on a simpler time when we all entertained the notion it was possible to replace Alex Trebek because clearly it’s not.
Jeopardy! will begin a new guest hosting process soon. In the meantime, here are our picks for round 1 of the saga.
16. Dr. Mehmet Oz
Show Air Dates: March 22, 2021 – April 2, 2021
15. Robin Roberts
Show Air Dates: July 19, 2021 – July 23, 2021
ABC’s Good Morning America host Robin Roberts’ stint as Jeopardy! host wasn’t a disaster. The games began and concluded largely without a hitch. The studio did not catch on fire. No one was injured. And yet, her relatively poor performance underlies what a sensitive beast the Jeopardy! hosting position is.
Robin Roberts quite simply did too much. She was a bit too chatty and discursive at the top of the episodes and during the interview segments. She interjected a bit too frequently amid answers. All in all, she hosted Jeopardy! the way I suspect that I myself would host Jeopardy! – as someone completely jazzed to be there and unable to stop remarking on the surreal joy of it all. That’s fine, and ultimately endearing to Roberts as a person. But this show requires a sturdier hand than that.
14. Anderson Cooper
Show Air Dates: April 19, 2021 – April 30, 2021
Anderson Cooper is a good journalist and compelling TV presence. When it comes to Jeopardy!, however, he’s definitely not the right man for the job. Cooper is somewhat fortunate that human trainwreck Dr. Oz hosted first and gobbled up the lion’s share of bad Jeopardy! host press. Otherwise people may have noticed that Cooper did fairly poorly in his two-week stint.
Cooper seemingly didn’t prepare as intensely as Trebek or the other guest hosts as there would frequently be awkward pauses following contestants’ answers while the host checked if they were right. As a result, the number of Jeopardy! rounds not completed under Cooper’s tenure was unusually high. It’s a small issue, but an impactful one.
13. Savannah Guthrie
Show Air Dates: June 14, 2021 – June 25, 2021
Savannah Guthrie is an amiable and professional TV presence in her day job as the co-anchor of NBC’s Today. In her time as a Jeopardy! host, however, she came off as essentially filler. As is the case with most of the entrants on this list (save for the quack above), Guthrie was perfectly fine as Jeopardy! host. But while she got the job done, she did so without any particular distinction.
Guthrie also interjected a bit too frequently after contestant’s answers. Though that’s an admirable attempt to interject some of her sunny personality into the proceedings, the role of Jeopardy! host often calls for less rather than more. As such her two-week run as host is likely to be the end of the line for her hosting quest.
12. Katie Couric
Show Air Dates: March 8, 2021- March 19, 2021
Couric’s tenure as Jeopardy! host was the victim of bad timing. She had the tough act of following two guest hosts who were extremely steeped in the show’s history in culture in official Greatest of All Time Ken Jennings and executive producer Mike Richards.
The longtime media personality ultimately did a fair job as host, with her only major flaw being interjecting a bit too frequently during rounds. Unfortunately, she doesn’t stack up well to the pros that preceded her.
11. Joe Buck
Show Air Dates: August 9, 2021 – August 13, 2021
As legendary sports broadcaster Joe Buck began his weeklong guest hosting tryout, recent Jeopardy! superstar James Holzhauer engaged in some classic Holzhauerian ball-busting.
Holzhauer is joking (or maybe not, it’s hard to tell with him) about how many sports fans despise Joe Buck as a broadcaster. Some combination of Buck’s voice, face, and dalliances in nepotism (his father was equally legendary sports broadcaster Jack Buck) rub people the wrong way. That’s all perfectly understandable. But it’s also wrong. Joe Buck is pretty great at his job!
He’s not great, however, at hosting Jeopardy! Buck seems like we would make for a good Jeopardy! host. He’s polished, well-read, and very comfortable on camera. Something about the experience just felt off though – like using a hammer on a screw. A hammer is a perfectly fine tool, but it probably shouldn’t be applied to everything.
So there you have it – Joe Buck: a perfectly fine tool.
10. George Stephanopoulos
Show Air Dates: July 12, 2021 – July 16, 2021
George Stephanopoulos faces a bit of an uphill battle on this list for a similar reason to Dr. Oz. Simply put: I just don’t like the guy. George’s case differs from Oz’s though. For while I’m morally opposed to Oz and his snake oil shenanigans, I just find George to be merely bad at his job as Chief Anchor ABC News.
Having said all that, it turns out that Stephanopoulos is quite good as a Jeopardy! host. While other guests got to enjoy a full two weeks to catch their stride, the Good Morning America anchor only had a week and used it quite well. Stephanopoulos was polished from the get-go, interjecting very little, and running some good, clean games. Ultimately, my personal distaste for Stephanopoulos’s journalistic performance keeps him lower on this list, but he performed well enough to rank even higher.
9. LeVar Burton
Show Air Dates: July 26, 2021 – July 30, 2021
Like many other millennials, my choice for Alex Trebek’s replacement before this whole guest host thing even started was LeVar Burton. Thanks to his work on as an educator on Reading Rainbow, Burton is one of the few TV presences with a level of learned gravitas approaching Trebek’s. He was a natural choice to get a guest host stint to try his hand at replacing the Canadian legend. How did he do? Well, it would appear there’s a reason Jeopardy! is opting for tryouts in the first place.
There’s really no way around it: Burton was fairly rough and unpolished as a Jeopardy! host compared to the top options on this list. While he did a superb job of respecting the format and not interjecting too much, there were several times in which he left the contestants hanging and forgot to prompt them to choose another category. It turns out that Jeopardy! contestants are helpless children when there isn’t a firm hand to guide them through the game.
Ultimately, errors like that are fixable and Burton’s warm, authoritative presence translated well to the Jeopardy! hosting format. As such, I still believe he would be a fine choice to succeed Alex Trebek. But in the spirit of judging these hosts on solely their performance, Burton lies near the middle of the pack.
8. Aaron Rodgers
Show Air Dates: April 5, 2021 – April 16, 2021
While the presence of a NFL star may seem like a desperate ratings grab from Jeopardy!, Green Bay Packers quarterback and former Celebrity Jeopardy! champ Aaron Rodgers is apparently dead serious about wanting the full-time hosting job, telling The Ringer that he could easily fit the show’s shooting schedule into his NFL obligations.
Rodgers’ eagerness was evident over the first week and led to him coming across as a bit too excitable. He really settled into the role in his second week though and projected the correct balance of expertise and personability.
7. Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Show Air Dates: June 28, 2021 – July 9, 2021
Perhaps this is a simple observation, but it’s really something to see how natural and poised TV veterans are on television. As CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta has plenty of experience in front of a camera. And that experience absolutely came through in his two-week stint as Jeopardy! host.
Gupta did little to distinguish himself from the favorites to take over hosting job later on this list, but there were absolutely no hiccups during his tenure – just two weeks of excellent Jeopardy! that also happened to feature the season’s most fearsome contestant yet in seven-time winner Courtney Shah.
6. Bill Whitaker
Show Air Dates: May 3, 2021 – May 14, 2021
In contrast to Aaron Rodgers, Bill Whitaker apparently has no interest in holding down the full-time Jeopardy! job, telling The Philadelphia Tribune that he enjoys his current gig as a CBS journalist. That’s a shame as Whitaker came off as quite a natural during his two-week stint.
Soft-spoken and consistent, Whitaker was such a steadying presence in his time as host to the point that the novelty of there even being a guest host began to wear off. Ultimately he might be a little too one-note for a full-time Jeopardy! host but his time on the dais was well spent.
5. Ken Jennings
Show Air Dates: January 4, 2021 – February 19, 2021
In the Jeopardy! canon Ken Jennings is the only figure that approaches the quiz show sainthood of Alex Trebek himself. Jennings is the most impressive and successful Jeopardy! contestant of all time, winning 74 consecutive games, amassing over $4 million in earnings, and taking home the title of Jeopardy! GOAT in 2020. When he was brought aboard as a consulting producer on Jeopardy! last year, many naturally assumed he was being groomed for the hosting role.
Sure enough, Jennings was announced as the first guest host of 2021 and got the year started on the right track with over a month of excellent hosting. Jennings has said that part of the key to Trebek’s success with Jeopardy! was his intuitive understanding that the star of the show wasn’t any host or contestant, but rather the show itself. Jennings put that understanding to good use, using his wealth of experience to make the game show feel both friendly and satisfyingly competitive.
Jennings would be a fine choice for Jeopardy! host. Perhaps his only real weakness, however, is…the tweeting, as it always seems to be. Jennings has tweeted jokes that toe the line between bad taste and offensive in the past, something that he apologized for last year. The issue with Jennings on Twitter though isn’t the risk of future offensive tweets but rather his continued use of Twitter at all along with the rest of us plebs.
Jeopardy! seemingly exists outside of time itself. Save for improved graphics and Trebek’s graying hair, the show has remained largely the same since it premiered. The Platonic ideal of a Jeopardy! host would seem like he or she was spawned from the set itself, returning backstage to sit on their trivia throne and contemplate the mysteries of life between tapings.
4. David Faber
Show Air Dates: August 2, 2021 – August 6, 2021
David Faber’s brief hosting stint on Jeopardy! provides compelling evidence that Alex Trebek’s replacement really should be a “nobody.” No disrespect intended for Mr. Faber, who is clearly somebody, but in terms of audience recognition the CNBC number cruncher is not particularly well-known.
And yet, Faber turned in a really compelling and fun week of guest hosting. Like any good Jeopardy! host, this former Celebrity Jeopardy! champion just sort of blended into the background and let the show be the real star. In place of flashiness, Faber offered up solid articulation of answers, clean games, and a steady presence. Based on his positioning in the guest host parade, Faber is unlikely to get the real Jeopardy! job. But should he grow bored of analyzing the markets at CNBC, he should consider hosting his own quiz show.
3. Mayim Bialik
Show Air Dates: May 31, 2021 – June 11, 2021
Mayim Bialik was a real pleasant surprise in her stint as host. In fact, she’s the best Jeopardy! guest host yet who was not previously affiliated with the show. Bialik leaned more toward the friendly end of the familiar/authoritative Jeopardy! hosting ratio, which is particularly impressive given her academic background as a literal neuroscientist. She kept up that energy throughout but was able to establish a nice balance in her second week.
As a longtime Big Bang Theory cast member, Bialik certainly doesn’t need the Jeopardy! hosting gig to pay the bills. But her experience in front of a live-studio audience and a clear passion for learning could prove useful in the position.
2. Buzzy Cohen
Show Air Dates: May 17, 2021 – May 28, 2021
On the flip side of Bill Whitaker, Buzzy Cohen may at first seem like too dynamic of a personality to work as a Jeopardy! guest host. His fun nickname, distinctive eyewear, and trendy haircut are at odds with such an ancient and venerated TV institution.
As host of Jeopardy!’s Tournament of Champions, however, Cohen was consistently great. Due to his time as a Jeopardy! champion himself, Cohen empathizes with contestants easily and keeps things going at a rapidly appropriate pace for the competitive tournament known as “The Nerd Super Bowl.”
Could Cohen still succeed in shepherding the game show when played by its more “normal” contestants? He certainly deserves some consideration to do so.
1. Mike Richards
Show Air Dates: February 22, 2021- March 5, 2021
Alex Trebek would occasionally be asked in interviews who he’d like to replace him. It was not a question he frequently answered because who would want to speculate about an event that would presumably only occur after their death. He often joked that Betty White should because she was a close friend. But in the few instances he did consider the question seriously, he offered up Los Angeles Kings play-by-play announcer Alex Faust, Turner Classic Movies host Ben Makiewicz, and CNN legal analyst Laura Coates. Ultimately, Trebek told journalists at the Television Critics Association press tour that he “would leave it up to the people in charge.”
As we now know, the “people in charge” royally botched that decision. Jeopardy!‘s producers inability to properly vet their candidates led to an ugly situation for a harmless, syndicated show that has no business being involved in ugly situations.
It must be said, however, that all that ugliness aside: Richards’ two-week tenure as guest host was great. Despite the stuffy connotation associated with the job “executive producer”, Richards was the most outwardly bubbly and joyful guest host yet. He still projected an air of authority and trivia mastery, likely due to his comfort and experience with the format. Richards was also an attentive interviewer, and well-researched – his shows were among the smoothest this season thus far.
Now some of those good qualities seem slightly more sinister in context. Richards would obviously not be our (nor anyone else’s) choice to replace Trebek today but you don’t get a chance to change your Final Jeopardy! wager once the answer is in.