Last week saw a long-anticipated development in the “Jeopardy!” guest host rotation cycle, as former “Star Trek” and “Roots” actor LeVar Burton took his turn behind the lectern.
After months of public lobbying, including an online petition, “Jeopardy!” announced in April that Burton would have the opportunity—what he called the “chance of a lifetime”—to guest host the show. True to form, the former “Reading Rainbow” star dedicated his hosting honorarium, in which “Jeopardy!” matches all contestants’ winnings to a charity of the guest host’s choice, to Reading is Fundamental, the famed nonprofit that promotes children’s literacy.
For all the hype, Burton’s performance included several hiccups. First, his on-air personality pushed the boundaries of a deliberately low-key show like “Jeopardy!”
At times, his demeanor echoed the stereotypical game show hosts of an earlier era rather than the more understated Alex Trebek. One could not help but wonder whether Burton considered himself an actor playing the role of a game show host, rather than just hosting the show.
When encouraging contestants, Burton displayed his enthusiasm by both increasing the volume and pitch of his voice. To a correct response, he often exclaimed “Yes!” in a manner that bordered on screeching and grew increasingly bothersome over time.
Two Notable Flubs
Burton’s stint got off to an inauspicious start in the first segment of the first episode he taped. Early in the first round, defending champion Matt Amodio responded to a clue asking for the 1980s Panamanian dictator by saying “Who is Noriega?”—but after time had expired.
Burton, seemingly unsure how to handle the situation (and perhaps seeking guidance from the show’s producers offstage), called his response “wrong,” whereupon another contestant responded (incorrectly) with “Who is Somoza?” The third contestant then rung in and responded with “Who is Noriega?”—and because he had responded correctly and in the time allotted, was awarded a correct response.
After the first commercial break, Burton announced the show’s producers had taken away the penalty for the second contestant’s incorrect response, ruling that Burton had confused her by calling Amodio’s response of Noriega “wrong,” as opposed to simply stating that Amodio had not responded in time. Given this early mishap, Burton in the remainder of his episodes made very clear to call “Time!” (as opposed to “incorrect” or “wrong”) when a contestant had failed to respond promptly.
Thursday’s show saw another slightly surprising flub, when Burton originally called a response by a contestant incorrect. After a moment’s pause, and perhaps a word in his ear from the control room, Burton reversed himself and judged the response correct.
On the one hand, this type of error seems easy to make. Between looking down at the lectern to read a clue, looking back up to recognize the contestants, and looking back down to judge the response, one can readily envision how a host could lose his place among a round’s 30 clues, and forget the correct response. But this observer cannot recall a similar error ever happening, whether under Trebek or the other guest hosts. (Of course, editing could also have wiped away similar mistakes in the past.)
Season’s End Approaching
Burton’s hosting stint also saw Amodio win the entire week’s worth of episodes, bringing his total to eight wins and nearly $300,000 in earnings. In the past month, both Amodio and Courtney Shah have broken the months-long trend of “Jeopardy!” contestants not going on long winning streaks during the rotation of guest hosts.
That rotation has but two names remaining. This week, CNBC anchor David Faber will take his place behind the lectern, with Fox sportcaster Joe Buck following him. Those two hosts will complete the 37th season of “Jeopardy!” at which point viewers should soon know who will replace Trebek permanently.
Between NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s reconciliation with the Green Bay Packers—making the man who guest hosted “Jeopardy!” in April (to stellar reviews) unavailable for the permanent gig—and Burton’s somewhat uneven performance as host, last week may have seen the picture surrounding the permanent host’s job become clearer. “Jeopardy!” fans will not have to wait much longer for the answer.