‘Jeopardy!’ GOAT Ken Jennings Didn’t Know His Return as Guest Host Would Air on the 1st Anniversary of Alex Trebek’s Death

Viewers watched Ken Jennings return to the Jeopardy! stage on Nov. 8 to resume his guest-hosting post. The date also marked the one-year anniversary of the death of game show icon Alex Trebek. The Jeopardy! GOAT wasn’t aware that his reprisal at the iconic lectern coincided with such a momentous milestone, but understood why producers didn’t call it to his attention.

'Jeopardy!' icon Alex Trebek and Ken Jennings on 'JEOPARDY! The Greatest of All Time'
‘Jeopardy!’ icon Alex Trebek and Ken Jennings in ‘The Greatest of All Time’ Tournament | Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images

Ken Jennings was the first ‘Jeopardy!’ guest host after Alex Trebek’s passing

Jeopardy! fans and staffers still mourn the loss of Trebek, who died on Nov. 8, 2020, from pancreatic cancer. In January 2021, Jennings was the first to step up to the legendary lectern after the beloved game show host’s passing.

“I was just terrified, and I think rightfully so,” Jennings told USA Today of the monumental task. “I mean, Alex had just barely passed, and really no one else had hosted the show since 1974; like, literally, in my lifetime.”

Since blocks of Jeopardy! episodes are recorded prior to airing, Jennings had no idea when his first show back as guest host would be shown. Producers had the programming schedule but decided not to clue in Jennings on the commemorative date that his first episode would air.

“Apparently, everyone was aware that we were going to air (my first episode) on the anniversary and nobody told me,” Jennings revealed. “They didn’t want to put that in my head. So I was not told until after that it was the Nov. 8 show.”

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‘Jeopardy!’ GOAT says hosting is ‘not easy’

When Jennings first took on the guest-hosting gig at the beginning of 2021, he knew he could never replace the Jeopardy! legend.

“I knew that it was going to be a very difficult task … much less the idea that you’re trying to step into the shoes of Alex Trebek, which is impossible,” Jennings said. “This time, we’re kind of a year removed or more from all that, so I’ve had every possible emotion now related to Jeopardy!

Now back at the quiz board, the Jeopardy! GOAT revealed how challenging the role is despite it coming so naturally to Trebek.

“You would like to say just like getting back on a bike,” Jennings explained. “But it’s a very tricky job. The mechanics of hosting Jeopardy! are daunting. There’s a lot going on at once, and Alex made it all look so easy. But I can tell you firsthand, it’s not easy. … I hope I don’t look rusty, but honestly it was just such a delight to be back on that stage.”

Alex Trebek’s legacy remains a part of ‘Jeopardy!’

Jennings had a special memento he added to his attire when he returned to the Jeopardy! podium.

“I did wear Alex’s cuff links that week, that his wife, Jean, had been kind enough to leave for me,” he shared. “So I do have a little kind of souvenir.”

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Renaming the Jeopardy! set “The Alex Trebek Stage” at Sony Pictures Studios, Jennings noted how the quiz master will always be the true Jeopardy! icon.

“You can’t stand on that stage and say those things without thinking about him,” he remarked. “Every time I’m up there, I’m doing Alex. Not just because he perfected it, but because that’s the only way I’ve ever seen it done.”