When longtime Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek died in November, it opened the biggest vacancy in game shows since Bob Barker decided to retire from The Price Is Right. That daytime show found its replacement in Drew Carey and, perhaps improbably, Jeopardy! just may have found its man in one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.
Aaron Rodgers’s announcement as a Jeopardy! guest host drew some skepticism from some fans of the show and basically any midwestern football enthusiasts outside of Wisconsin. What did Rodgers, after all, know about hosting a game show? Celebrity Jeopardy! champion or not, giving the answers to three serious contestants day in and day out is a different task, one that some sideline interviews and State Farm commercials don’t exactly prepare you for.
But with his final of 10 tapings airing on Friday, it’s clear by now that Rodgers would actually be a great pick for the job. That alone seems worthy of praise given the level of difficulty the role entails, and the fact that he’s extremely interested in the gig full-time means he needs to be considered for the role. If we’ve learned anything about him in the last fortnight, it’s that the initial concerns about putting the Green Bay Packers quarterback behind the podium have been almost universally unfounded.
We know by now that hosting Jeopardy! is a lot of work. There are pronunciations to master, category themes to grasp, and banter with contestants to deal with while putting on a highly-competitive game in the process. The host of Jeopardy! matters more than possibly any other game show ever made when you consider they quite literally decide how long contestants get to answer a clue before moving on. The pace of the show is theirs to set, and it took Trebek decades to master the gameflow we grew accustomed to watching at home. More than that, the show’s contestants obsess over the cadence a host speaks with, as the signaling device only operates after the host delivers the clue’s final word.
It’s likely made the two-week guest hosting pattern a nightmare for contestants who have waited years and endured multiple attempts to get on the show, only to stumble into hearing Dr. Oz and not Trebek or the more familiar Ken Jennings set the tone. And Rodgers, like all guest hosts, was thrown into the wringer here with just three days on a COVID-19 safety-restricted set to get prepared and film two weeks’ worth of episodes. But we know he studied the role like he prepared for football, and executive producer Mike Richards (who had his own guest hosting stint) said he really got into a groove in the abbreviated period of time he was on set.
“Aaron Rodgers came in so prepared it was unbelievable,” Richards told The Ringer’s Claire McNear. “He approached this like he was breaking down game footage. He watched a ton of episodes and he came in with questions like, ‘Now if this happens, how do I deal with it?’ And I was like, ‘Well, that doesn’t really happen.’ And he said, ‘I saw one! I want to know because I want to be prepared.’ He came in prepared like an MVP quarterback would for a huge game.”
Football analogies aside, all that prep work has clearly paid off on camera. Rodgers has looked poised, controlled the flow of the game, and had some truly fun moments in his two weeks hosting. Unless you count hundreds of former contestants furious that a “grifter” like Dr. Oz hosted a show that celebrates facts and science, Rodgers has far and away made the most headlines of the guest hosts. And all for positive reasons.
Like it or not, viral moments are part of the modern Jeopardy! appeal, and Rodgers has handled a number of them well in his short two-week stint hosting. Right away he endured ribbing from a contestant about a bewildering decision in the most recent Packers playoff game, earnestly bonded with a contestant stretching his connection to him through Vince Lombardi, and just genuinely looked (and sounded) the part with very little professional television training. He even got to have a fun moment with contestants who didn’t know a Packers question earlier this week.
The reactions here are all improv, starting with the expectant, hands out exasperation when everyone came up empty, then despondently telling a content to “go again, I guess.” He then gently chided another contestant for getting the next question right with an “Oh, so you know that one, huh.” It’s funny, but most importantly the riffing doesn’t upstage the game: the quips were quick, the laughter subsided, and play continued on.
— Aaron Rodgers (@AaronRodgers12) April 13, 2021
The most important moment for me, though, came Thursday when he joined the long tradition of Trebek gently roasting contestants for their Cool Jeopardy! fact. Rodgers calling a contestant Ashley after telling a story about how she’s constantly called the wrong name was a harmless, essentially staged moment, sure. But it’s one that makes it clear that Rodgers understands the give and take that comes with a very nerdy trivia game show. It was reminiscent of one of the great gifts Trebek gave us over the years: His Jeopardy! was much more than just its host, but with Trebek in control it could be fun while also extremely serious stuff.
Jeopardy! doesn’t need a host creating talked-about moments because they’re a wildly popular celebrity or athlete, but it must have someone willing to put in the work and express the level of care that Trebek did hosting Jeopardy! for decades. That deft touch is what made the show so beloved in the first place, and made Trebek such an integral part of what it’s become today. It’s a bit unexpected that an NFL All-Pro is the person who seems to best understand that out of all the guest hosts we’ve seen, but it seems like the only real benchmark worth discussing when searching for Trebek’s eventual successor.
There are still a slew of new guest hosts lined up for the spring and summer, and about seven weeks’ worth of unassigned episodes left in the current Jeopardy! season still to come. Other candidates, like LeVar Burton, have also shown interest and gotten plenty of support from fans regarding their chances at the full-time gig. Burton and others absolutely deserve a shot to prove themselves worthy of following up Trebek’s legendary stint on the show.
But Rodgers has to be in that conversation, too, and the math works on him pulling double duty if he really wanted to make it happen. The inevitable Take Cycle it may bring if he has a few bad games under center while juggling flights to Los Angeles to tape Jeopardy! would be absolutely exhausting, sure. But if the NFL superstar truly wants Jeopardy! to be his second act, it would be very hard to argue he’s not ready for the gig after what we’ve seen.