'Jeopardy!' co-host Ken Jennings says he started to cry when he walked out to a studio audience for season premiere: 'People just went bonkers'

There have been a lot of show tapings in the many seasons that Jeopardy! has been on the air, but the premiere of Season 39 that co-host Ken Jennings filmed this year (and aired last month) was different. A studio audience, which had been banished because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was back.

"That first game of this season, I walked out and people just went bonkers and I just started to cry," the Jeopardy! champ said Monday on Good Morning America. "This game means so much to people. And there was just this visceral wave of love and energy. I'll be thinking about that for the rest of my life."

Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik are Jeopardy! co-hosts. (Photo: FOX via Getty Images)
Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik are Jeopardy! co-hosts. (Photo: FOX via Getty Images)

Jennings and his co-host, Mayim Bialik, who are taking turns helming the show, sat for the morning talker in their first joint interview since being announced as the permanent hosts. Before that, the two were part of a long list of guest hosts who read the clues, following the death of Alex Trebek in November 2020 from pancreatic cancer.

Both said that they think of Trebek, who had hosted the show since 1984, regularly.

"I feel like Alex's presence is here, and it is," Bialik said. "It's in the words that we heard him say for so many decades. But I think also, like, wanting to more kind of imitate the feeling that he created on the stage for the contestants and for the audience."

The co-hosts were selected following a scandal, which is unusual for the TV staple. It happened when former Jeopardy! executive producer Mike Richards briefly served as official host, then left the show altogether, after offensive comments that he had made on a podcast before he joined the beloved game show surfaced online.

Jennings, who continues to hold the record for most consecutive wins, with 74, said he appreciates that he and Bialik are sharing hosting duties.

"One of the nice things about having two hosts is the focus is a little less on who is the iconic host of Jeopardy! And it's really more about Jeopardy! as a game," he said. "Some nights it's gonna be me. Some nights it's gonna be Mayim. But it's always Jeopardy!"

Bialik hosted Sunday night's episode of Celebrity Jeopardy!, in which Crazy Rich Asians actress Constance Wu had to be censored.