After two weeks of shows helmed by NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie, a different television personality took a turn behind the lectern as “Jeopardy!” guest host. Most viewers know Sanjay Gupta as CNN’s chief medical correspondent. Gupta is also trained as a neurosurgeon and continues to practice at Grady Memorial Hospital while juggling his CNN duties.
Since “Jeopardy!” has pledged to match constestants’ winnings and donate the sum to a charity of each guest hosts’ choosing, Gupta selected Odyssey Atlanta, a summer enrichment camp in his hometown.
In his first week behind the lectern, Gupta did a capable job. He exhibited an affable demeanor with contestants and punctuated his comments with a broad, oft-present smile, while his mild-mannered voice brought a calming tone to the game.
Gupta also seemed to reference the game scores more than most guest hosts. Watching the episodes, you get the impression that some of the hosts are (somewhat understandably) so preoccupied with reading clues and judging contestants’ responses they lose track of the game’s ups and downs.
In a show like “Jeopardy!”, looks can be deceiving — editing can mask some errors that occur during production — but Gupta seemed to have a better handle on the gameplay than some of his guest host predecessors.
Perhaps partially for that reason, “Jeopardy!” saw its first long-term champion in many months. Courtney Shah, a community college instructor from Oregon, began the week as a challenger on Monday’s show, winning all five games with total earnings approaching $80,000.
Shah is the first contestant to win more than three consecutive games since Ken Jennings’s stint as host. During Jennings’s six-week run, both Brian Chang and John Focht won more than three games. But since the guest hosts have started rotating more quickly, only Shah has a notable winning streak.
Zach Newkirk appeared in a total of seven episodes, but four of them took place in June 2020. Alex Trebek presided over those episodes, at the very end of “Jeopardy!’s” 36th season, but COVID travel restrictions prevented Newkirk from returning at the start of season 37. By the time he returned, Trebek had died, with Jennings serving as the guest host.
The fact that so few contestants have qualified for the next Tournament of Champions speaks to the disruption created by the rotating guest host dynamic for the people who compete every night on “Jeopardy!” As I’ve previously noted, the sooner the show gets that uncertainty resolved, the better — for contestants and viewers alike.
Guest Host Carousel Spins Faster
That said, in the short term, the rotation of guest hosts will speed up rather than slow down. Gupta will complete a second week behind the lectern, but the remaining guest hosts will not have that privilege.
Instead, “Jeopardy!’s” 37th season will end with five weeks of shows hosted by five separate guest hosts: ABC’s “Good Morning America” anchors George Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts, former “Reading Rainbow” host LeVar Burton, CNBC anchor David Faber, and Fox broadcaster Joe Buck.
I’ll go out on a limb and predict the last month of the “Jeopardy!” season won’t see any additional names added to the list of this season’s five-time champions. With the guest hosts rotating almost as quickly as the contestants, players will have little ability to build up a sense of timing with the host, let alone any momentum.
For many players, becoming a contestant on “Jeopardy!” fulfills an ambition they have harbored for years, even decades. I feel sad that the 299 contestants called to appear on the show during the guest host menagerie will have to endure a suboptimal experience for a once-in-a-lifetime dream.