Thanks to one cheeky contestant, Aaron Rodgers’s stint as guest host of “Jeopardy!” got off to a memorable start. At the end of a game where he could not catch the leader — and didn’t know the correct “Final Jeopardy!” response — contestant Scott Shewfelt instead posed a question of a different sort to Rodgers:
— Jeopardy! (@Jeopardy) April 5, 2021
For non-sports fans, the question refers to the end of this January’s NFC Championship Game. The coach of Rodgers’s Green Bay Packers, Matt LaFleur, decided to kick a field goal on fourth down while trailing late in the game, rather than have Rodgers attempt to tie the game with a touchdown. Rodgers and the Packers never saw the ball again, as Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held on, winning a trip to the Super Bowl.
In an interview after the episode taped, Rodgers said he hoped someone would bring up the field goal, which he said back in January was not his decision. Yet, when someone actually included that as a response, the mild-mannered, even-keeled composure Rodgers generally displayed as host evaporated into a sea of laughs and giggles.
Rodgers, who had his contestants’s winnings matched as a donation to the North Valley Community Foundation in his native northern California, had other interesting moments in his first week as “Jeopardy!” host. He bonded with a three-day champion who, like him, attended the University of California-Berkeley, always introducing him with a “Go Bears!” reference. And he even made a sly comment during a contestant interview about Willie Nelson’s “smoky” bus. But doubtless, the field goal reference will serve as the defining moment of Rodgers’s hosting tenure.
Adapting to a Different Environment
Several weeks ago, I posed the question of how someone like Rodgers would perform in an environment where he had to react spontaneously. Of course, as an MVP quarterback, Rodgers improvises to great effect on the football field. Doing so while hosting a quiz show on a California soundstage, however, requires a different set of skills.
Still, an interview with ESPN revealed Rodgers had a few tricks up his sleeve. For one, he admitted that “Jeopardy!” production staff placed an earpiece in his ear, to give him guidance on when to go to commercial break.
While longtime “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek did not wear an earpiece as emcee, other guest hosts have worn earpieces, likely for two reasons. First, using the earpiece allows the host to receive advice — on things like the game’s timing and the accuracy of contestant responses — rather than the host judging contestants on the fly or looking to judges posted off-stage. Additionally, guiding the guest host via audio link seems like a COVID-safe way to keep more production staff out of the soundstage.
Preparation and Practice
But Rodgers also put one of his traits as a quarterback to good use while hosting “Jeopardy!”: Studying game film. He explained to ESPN how he watched old episodes hosted by Trebek, taking “pages and pages and pages of notes,” to understand them from the host’s perspective rather than as a fan or contestant.
Rodgers said he “wanted to absolutely just crush it” as host. And his responses did seem more natural, and less stilted, than other guest hosts, even if his relatively monotone voice — which seemed to echo his 2014 advice that Packer fans should “R-E-L-A-X” — still gave him a style distinct from Trebek’s.
Permanent Hosting Gig Unlikely — For Now
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Rodgers claimed because he only worked for the Packers for 187 days last year, he still has plenty of time to tape “Jeopardy!” episodes if named the full-time host while remaining an NFL quarterback. The show tapes 46 weeks of shows every season, each of which takes one day to tape, so in Rodgers’s view, he can wear both hats with few difficulties.
The logistics may prove more formidable than Rodgers let on, however. For starters, “Jeopardy!” likely will not name its full-time host until the show starts taping its 38th season this summer — right around the time when the Packers will enter training camp. It seems unlikely that “Jeopardy!” could wait until Rodgers completes the NFL season in January to begin taping, and therefore airing, new episodes — which makes the likelihood that he could permanently host “Jeopardy!” while still playing professional football seem remote.
That news should suit Packer fans just fine. Rodgers just won his third Most Valuable Player award in February, and the team has a shot at another Super Bowl title with him at the helm, so long as his coach stops making boneheaded calls to kick field goals — which Rodgers’s stint as “Jeopardy!” host helpfully reinforced.