Ken Jennings Reveals the "Jeopardy!" Advice Alex Trebek Gave Him in Final Phone Call
He says he spoke to the late host the night before he died.
Alex Trebek hosted Jeopardy! for 36 years, which means that many fans of the show had been watching him for most of all of their lives. Because of that legacy, it was difficult to imagine anyone else stepping into his shoes. But, when Trebek died of pancreatic cancer in November 2020, the show was faced with that reality. Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings was named the temporary guest host before the show slotted in a series of guest hosts on the way to choosing a permanent replacement for Trebek. Today, Jennings and Mayim Bialik share hosting duties, though Bialik has stepped back for the time being in support of striking Hollywood writers.
Back in 2020, before Trebek passed, Jennings was already in talks to guest host, if needed. In a new interview, the former champion revealed that his last conversation with his predecessor took place the night before Trebek died and that Trebek imparted some advice that Jennings uses on the show today. Read on to find out what the late TV legend told his successor.
Jennings said that Trebek was less serious than he seemed.
In a new interview with The Last Podcast on the Left, Jennings was asked if Trebek was exactly how he seemed on Jeopardy! in real life.
"He very much was," Jennings said, before adding, "I mean, he was more fun … During commercials he would tell jokes, go into the crowd. He loved to warm up the crowd himself and do little impressions. He was a very light, funny guy. But, you know, he had to keep the show moving because that's the job description."
The 49-year-old continued, "The things you think you know about him—that he's smart, that he actually knew all those answers and wanted you to know that he knew them, and was very well-read, and kind of a gentleman of the old school—all 100 percent true."
He spoke to Trebek the night before he died.
Jennings went on to describe his final memories of Trebek.
"I actually ended up talking to him what turned out to be the night before the day he passed away about guest hosting for him," Jennings said. "We didn't know. We thought, Oh, he's going to get better. He's going to bounce back. He'll be hosting again. I was just going to fill in. And we talked about the game."
Trebek gave him advice about hosting by sharing his own philosophy. "He gave me the impression he always did over the years, which was that he did not want to be the center of attention on Jeopardy!. He was never announced as the 'star of Jeopardy!', he was always the 'host of Jeopardy!' because he thought the game itself and the contestants should be the star," Jennings explained.
The current host said that he follows Trebek's lead. "I do the same thing. This should not be about me. This should be about these three people and the clues and that's what people want," he added.
Jennings said Trebek thanked him.
Jennings shared more details about the conversation with E! News in January 2021. "We had talked about the possibility of me guest hosting for him at some point and he was so sweet," the host revealed. "He was thanking me very genuinely for helping out and I was like, 'Alex, you gave us 37 years. We should be thanking you. It's the least I could do.'"
For more celebrity news delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
He had no expectation of filling Trebek's shoes.
Speaking to E! News, Jennings shared that he knows people would rather see Trebek than him and revealed that he feels the same way.
"Just to be frank, nobody wants me there," he said. At the time, the show was using Jennings and other guest hosts. "I don't want me there. We all want to see Alex there for 100 years in a perfect world and, you know, I really just wanted to do the best I could so as not to let him down and Jeopardy! viewers down, so I felt a lot of pressure."
In an interview with Good Morning America around the same time, Jennings said, "You can't fill shoes like Alex Trebek's. He was just a legend and, you know, I'm like everybody else—when I hear that music, I don't want to see an interim host. In a perfect world, I want to see Alex Trebek."
Jennings has been hosting regularly for two years.
Jennings and Bialik began hosting Jeopardy! permanently in September 2021, following a brief and controversial stint by the show's former executive producer Mike Richards. Recently, the show made headlines for deciding to film new episodes amid the Writers Guild of America strike. The current executive producer, Michael Davies, announced that the show would use clues that were written before the strike began in May 2022, as well as clues recycled from previous episodes.
Amid the strike, Bialik stepped down from hosting in solidarity with the WGA. Jennings has continued to host the show, which has led to criticism that he is crossing the picket line. Jennings defended himself on X, formerly Twitter, by pointing out that Trebek continued to host the show during the 2007-2008 WGA strike.