After a two-week break for the annual Tournament of Champions, won by Sam Kavanaugh, “Jeopardy!” returned to regular game play last Monday. As part of that change, the show transitioned into another guest host, with Mayim Bialik replacing former Tournament of Champions winner Buzzy Cohen behind the lectern.
Bialik’s appearance will also raise money for a cause dear to her heart, as Jeopardy! will match contestants’ winnings during her two-week stint, donating those funds to the National Alliance for Mental Illness.
Gen-X viewers of a certain age will remember Bialik as starring in the title role in Blossom, an NBC sitcom on the air from 1990 through 1995. Subsequent to her work as a teen actress, Bialik received a doctorate in neuroscience from the University of California at Los Angeles in 2007. She later returned to acting, considering it more conducive to life as a parent, and starred in “The Big Bang Theory” from 2010 through 2019.
Unique Background Brings Impressive On-Camera Persona…
Bialik’s distinct skillset, combining experience in front of the camera with a background in academia, gave her an authoritative yet engaging personality as a host. From a brief yet impassioned opening to her first show to witty banter with contestants — on Friday, she joked that the defending champion’s most prized possession, a string of pearls a relative gave, would go to the episode’s winner — Bialik balanced friendliness and determination in a way that kept the show engaging but on-point.
In earlier interviews about the next host of “Jeopardy!,” executive producer (and guest host himself) Mike Richards noted he wanted the replacement for Alex Trebek to “be the arbiter of the game, [because] the host is the initial judge. You have to be credible when you give the response.” As a real-life Ph.D. — with a doctorate in neuroscience, no less — Bialik brings that credibility, coupled with an easy on-camera persona.
Most of the other guest hosts bring at least one of those skill sets, but not necessarily both. For instance, the mannerisms and stage presence of Aaron Rodgers most closely resembled those of Trebek, but his reputation comes largely from his football feats.
As it happens, Rodgers’ NFL career meant he forfeited his senior year of college, and never graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. As a former 74-day “Jeopardy!” champion, Ken Jennings brings automatic credibility on the intellectual front, but seemed slightly uneasy in the hosting role.
…With One Noteworthy ‘Tic’
Despite her impressive personality, one trait seemed to come up on multiple occasions during Bialik’s first week as guest host. When reading clues, she seemed to race through or ignore commas, which meant that on several occasions she put the em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LAB-le.
As previously noted, “Jeopardy!” has struggled in recent months with guest hosts having to re-record clues due to mispronunciations, so much that the show’s tape days have extended by as much as four additional hours. So the show’s producers have left in some guest hosts’ errors, as when Katie Couric called the Civil War battlefield correctly pronounced “Chick-a-maw-ga” as “Chick-a-mon-ga” during one “Final Jeopardy!” segment.
While it might seem pedantic, how a host reads a clue could affect how both contestants and reviewers respond. Buzzy Cohen — who had one of the show’s production staff critique his reading before his hosting gig — noted, “Each clue is a little story that you tease out. It’s not a marathon — it’s 61 springs, and you have to bring intensity to each clue.”
Bialik will have another week of (pre-taped) shows to demonstrate her intensity as “Jeopardy!” guest host. Following her: NBC News anchor Savannah Guthrie. Executive producer Richards has said the show could announce its permanent host by the end of July — roughly six weeks from now — before the final episodes of the 37th season, emceed by the last of the rotation of guest hosts, publicly air.