Ken Jennings pays tribute to Alex Trebek in his ‘Jeopardy!’ hosting debut

The ‘GOAT’ winner is the first to try to fill the hosting void.
Published January 12, 2021 9:09 a.m. EST
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Will it ever really be Jeopardy! without OG host Alex Trebek? That’s a hard no, if worldwide fans have anything to say about it. The good news is that it seems likely whoever does wind up permanently taking on the gig won’t even try. At least that’s the indication the first guest host, Ken Jennings, gave when he made his debut on January 11.

“Thank you Johnny Gilbert, thank you everyone. Welcome to Jeopardy!” Jennings, who was introduced as “the guest host,” said at the top of the show. “Sharing this stage with Alex Trebek was one of the greatest honours of my life,” he continued. “Not many things in life are perfect, but Alex did this job pretty much perfectly for more than 36 years, and it was even better up close. We were dazzled by his intelligence, his charm, his grace, really. There’s no other word for it.”

Jennings was clearly fighting back tears as he continued. “Like all Jeopardy! fans, I miss Alex very much. And I thank him for everything he did for all of us. Let’s be totally clear: No one will ever replace the great Alex Trebek. But we can honour him by playing the game he loved. Jim, Tanay, Julia, welcome to the show,” he wrapped his intro, welcoming the players.

Jennings was announced as one of Jeopardy!’s guest hosts back in November, when executive producer Mike Richards revealed in a statement that the best way to honour Trebek’s memory was to carry on the game that he loved so much. At the time, there was speculation that Jennings could be the next host after he joined the show as a producer a few weeks earlier. The fan-favourite contestant had also been crowned the winner of the special run of Jeopardy! episodes, Greatest of All Time, earlier in 2020. He beat out fellow winningest contestants Brad Rutter and James Holzhauer for the title.  

Since being named interim guest host Jennings has faced his share of controversy outside of the question of whether he would make a good on-screen replacement for Trebek. Fans on social media recently called him out for some of his previous insensitive tweets, prompting Jennings to finally issue an apology and delete old posts. “Hey, I just wanted to own up to the fact that over the years on Twitter, I've definitely tweeted some unartful and insensitive things,” Jennings wrote on December 30.

“Sometimes they worked as jokes in my head and I was dismayed to see how they read on screen,” he continued. “In the past, I'd usually leave bad tweets up just so they could be dunked on. At least that way they could lead to smart replies and even advocacy. Deleting them felt like whitewashing a mistake.”

So far, Jeopardy! hasn’t revealed who else will take up the mantle of guest host as the new episodes continue to unfold, although it’s rumoured that former Today co-anchor Katie Couric is expected to take over the series for a week. Meanwhile, LeVar Burton fans have made it clear they’d also love to see him try his hand at hosting the show, too.  

Trebek passed away on November 8 at the age of 80 after a long battle with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. His death came less than two weeks after he had taped his final Jeopardy! installments. The host’s final show was originally intended to air on Christmas Day, but after consideration the producers opted to move it to the New Year. Then, when the host’s very last episode aired on January 8, it wrapped with a tear-inducing montage of special Jeopardy! moments that truly made Trebek the host with the most.

To say there wasn’t a dry eye in the house would be an understatement.

Before you go: Inside Alex Trebek's final 'Jeopardy!' episode

[video_embed id='2115390']Before you go: Inside Alex Trebek's final 'Jeopardy!' episode[/video_embed]