A week after her “Good Morning America” co-anchor George Stephanopoulos guest-hosted America’s most-watched quiz show, ABC’s Robin Roberts took her own week-long turn behind the “Jeopardy!” lectern.
Roberts, who received a bone marrow transplant in 2012 after a cancer diagnosis, designated Be the Match’s bone marrow registry campaign as her charity of choice. “Jeopardy!” matches contestants’ winnings in a donation to each guest host’s chosen recipient.
Chatty, Folksy Host
From the start of her first episode, Roberts’s background as a morning talk show host came through. On the one hand, for someone who echoed the late Alex Trebek’s advice that “it’s all about the contestants,” Roberts seemed to spend more time talking than the prior guest hosts. On the other, her warm manner might have helped put nervous contestants at ease during a very stressful competition.
— Jeopardy! (@Jeopardy) July 19, 2021
One segment in particular showed a distinct difference between Roberts and her immediate predecessor. In an interview about his hosting stint, Stephanopoulos said he thought the contestant interview segment (a.k.a. the “talk spot”) was awkward:
[The interviews are] delightfully painful. That’s what it is. I mean, it’s so awkward—come on! These people are nervous — all they want to do is play the game and become a champion … You’re bringing up these ridiculous facts about their lives. They know they’re ridiculous. It’s so incredibly awkward — and it all has to be done in a lot less than 30 seconds.
As someone who has gone through this awkward ritual, I wholeheartedly agree with Stephanopoulos’s sentiment. (Still, the “ridiculous” nuggets about players’ lives are important in one key sense: The producers consider those nuggets when selecting players to cast, so would-be contestants should highlight nuggets that demonstrate fun and compelling personalities — without exposing themselves to ridicule from the host.)
But Roberts seemed to embrace the contestant interviews, calling it her favorite part of the show. Perhaps she just did a better job concealing the awkwardness than Stephanopoulos, or perhaps she really did care about the contestants’ lives and backgrounds. But Roberts relished the “softer” side of her hosting duties in ways other guest emcees did not.
Trebek Phrase Returns
Early in the week, a three-word phrase made its reappearance on “Jeopardy!” for the first time in at least six months: “not a runaway.” Trebek would often use this phrase in an instance where the leader had a sizable margin heading into the final clue, but not enough to secure victory (i.e., more than twice as much as the second-place contestant).
None of the guest hosts prior to Roberts uttered this phrase. Doing so requires a fair bit of skill, as the host must monitor the scores and then do quick mental math at the end of Double Jeopardy to calculate whether the leader has more than twice as much as the second-place contestant. Other guest hosts may have observed this dynamic heading into Final Jeopardy, but only Roberts said it on-camera — and in doing so, showed her adroitness in keeping up with a fast-paced game.
Up Next: LeVar Burton
After Roberts’s five days of shows, LeVar Burton will take his turn as this week’s much-anticipated “Jeopardy!” guest host. Public clamor and an online petition helped convince producers to invite Burton to host for a week. His stint will likely draw renewed attention to a search for a permanent host that has dragged on for quite some time.
“Jeopardy!” executive producer (and guest host himself) Mike Richards indicated in April the show would likely have to select its permanent host before “Jeopardy!” begin taping its 38th season on schedule in August. Given the hype leading up to his appearance, Burton’s week of hosting — and fans’ reactions once his episodes finally air — may play an important role in determining who will get the full-time gig.