Lifelong Jeopardy! fans have fully embraced Ken Jennings as Alex Trebek’s worthy successor, but that doesn’t mean the trivia champ doesn’t have his own unique hosting style. As a past competitor recently pointed out, there are subtle differences in how Jennings and Trebek command the Jeopardy! stage, especially when it comes to handling contestants’ anecdotes.
As regular Jeopardy! viewers will know, when the regular broadcast returns from its first commercial break, the host quickly interviews each contestant. It’s an opportunity for the players to share a short anecdote about themselves, giving audiences a better sense of who is actually competing.
These brief 30-second interviews are often a little bit awkward for the sheer fact that regular people aren’t used to talking about themselves in front of a national audience between intense trivia rounds. However, the show works to prepare contestants for the incredibly nerve-wracking experience.
In 2011, NPR peeled back the curtain on the Jeopardy! contestant interview process. According to the article, contestants are given a questionnaire to fill out. It usually involves various fun, personal, and thought-provoking prompts meant to facilitate a few of these familiar anecdotes.
Once the questionnaire has done its duty, the host is given cards for each contestant containing three different anecdotes. From there, it’s up to the host to choose which anecdote to ask about.
Since Ken Jennings took the helm, the interview portion has been pretty light-hearted if not a little bit stiff. This is because it seems like Jennings prefers to stick to the script and let contestants riff on the anecdotes they’ve already prepared—something we’re sure the players appreciate.
However, Alex Trebek was a little less predictable. During his more than 30 years on the show, Trebek interviewed thousands of contestants. As time went on, he got quite comfortable with going off-script. So comfortable, in fact, that he would sometimes choose to ignore the provided anecdotes entirely.
According to Jennifer Quail, who went on a 9-game win streak in 2019, she and the other contestants were warned that Trebek could go completely off-script and simply ask about whatever he found interesting in the moment. This undoubtedly contributed to the players’ anxieties, but show crew member Robert James told NPR in 2011 that Trebek would never leave the players hanging.
“People tell me that this is the scariest part—this chat thing!” James noted. “But the thing is, Alex is so good at his job, he will bail you out no matter what.”
There’s no doubt that Alex Trebek’s style elevated Jeopardy! from a simple trivia contest to prime-time entertainment, and few people in the game show world got to know that style better than Ken Jennings did. However, it’s clear that Jennings doesn’t need to be an exact copy of his predecessor to win over legions of Jeopardy! fans.