'Jeopardy!' Tournament of Champions is delayed after winners said they won't compete amid writers strike

Plus, why host Ken Jennings is suddenly feeling the heat.

Several Jeopardy! champions have revealed that they won't be part of the next Tournament of Champions due to the WGA strike. (Photo: Getty Images)
Several Jeopardy! champions have revealed that they won't be part of the next Tournament of Champions due to the WGA strike. (Photo: Getty Images) (Getty Images)
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The annual Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions is on pause after a number of recent winners revealed they wouldn't be back for the annual event in solidarity with Hollywood's historic double strike by SAG-AFTRA and the WGA. Here's what you need to know about why the Tournament of Champions won't move forward for now.

Why are the champions not returning?

Jeopardy! employs Writer's Guild of America scribes to pen its brainteasers and those writers, along with the rest of their union, put down their pencils when the WGA officially went on strike on May 2. "Our words are on the screen every night," Jeopardy! writer, Michele Loud told Variety at the time. "There is no Jeopardy without writers. Without us it’s just an empty blue screen."

Production on the show's 39th season continued after the strike was announced using previously written questions, with the final episodes filmed in mid-May. But with the writers walking the picket lines, no new answers can be written for the Tournament of Champions or the first episodes of Season 40, which reportedly might have relied on previous material. And the champions are making it clear that they're siding with the writers in this particular labor dispute.

After the winners' comments circulated online, Sony Pictures TV — the studio behind Jeopardy! — announced that the Tournament of Champions wouldn't move forward amidst the strike. "Jeopardy! never had any intention of producing a Tournament of Champions for season 39 until the strike is resolved," a show spokesperson said in a statement provided to The Hollywood Reporter. "Further, no contestants from season 39 have been contacted regarding their availability for any postseason tournaments, including the TOC. The Jeopardy! postseason represents the pinnacle of our competition, and it should feature our strongest players playing our toughest original material."

Which champions have said they won't be part of the tournament?

Ray Lalonde rang in 2023 with a 13-game winning streak and a $386,400 jackpot. But the Canadian scenic artist is putting his ethics before another payday. "I am a lifelong devoted fan of Jeopardy!," Lalonde wrote in a widely-circulated Reddit post. "I am and will always be grateful for the experience I had on the show and the opportunity to participate in the TOC is beyond a dream come true for me.

"That being said, I believe that the show's writers are a vital part of the show and they are justified in taking their job action to secure a fair contract for themselves and their fellow WGA members," he continued. "As a supporter of the trade union movement, a union member's son and a proud union member myself I have informed the show's producers that if the strike remains unresolved I will not cross a picket line to play in the tournament of champions."

Five-time 2022-23 champ Ben Goldstein chimed in on Lalonde's post, writing: "If you are out, I am out." They are joined by Ben Chan, Luigi de Guzman, Suresh Krishnan, Troy Meyer, Chris Pannullo and Hannah Wilson, who have announced their own decisions not to cross the WGA picket line on Reddit or their own social media pages.

Will Mayim Bialik be back to host the Tournament of Champions?

Even before SAG-AFTRA went on strike on July 14, the Call Me Kat star made her allegiance to the WGA known. Bialik exited her Jeopardy! co-hosting duties in May, sitting out the final episodes of Season 39. She is not expected to return for either Tournament of Champions or the start of Season 40 as long as the strike persists.

Why is Wil Wheaton angry at Ken Jennings?

Ken Jennings has received criticism for continuing to host Jeopardy! amidst the WGA strike. (Photo: Getty Images)
Ken Jennings has received criticism for continuing to host Jeopardy! amidst the WGA strike. (Photo: Getty Images) (Getty Images)

While Bialik stepped away from Jeopardy!, her co-host — and former champion, himself — Ken Jennings, continued to emcee the final episodes of Season 39, a decision that received no small amount of derision from fans and writers alike. Stand by Me star Wil Wheaton was among Jennings's most vocal critics, posting a blistering post on Facebook in May.

"This is a very small town, Ken Jennings, and we will all remember this," Wheaton wrote. "Your privilege may protect you right now, but we will never forget."

Jennings, who isn't a member of SAG-AFTRA, hasn't announced if he'll host the Tournament of Champions or Season 40 if either moves forward as planned. But he did offer a defense of hosting the remaining episodes of Season 39. "Our last week of shows was already locked," Jennings told the Deseret News in May. "We could be above board and just shoot the last week of scripts that had already been written."

This post has been updated with the news that Sony Pictures TV would be postponing the Tournament of Champions.

Jeopardy! airs weekdays, check your local listings.