Jeopardy! co-host Mayim Bialik is well aware that fans of the long-running game take it very seriously. Still, even she was taken aback by the online fervor kicked up by a seemingly innocuous comment she made on a February episode of the syndicated edition and the National College Championship. Bialik referred to the opening round as "Single Jeopardy!" — as opposed to simply "Jeopardy!" — and immediately got an earful from longtime viewers on social media. "People care a lot. I get it," Bialik tells Yahoo Entertainment in a new interview. "And I'm sorry; I'm doing my best!" (Watch our conversation above.)
At the same time, Bialik — who shares hosting duties with Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings — insists that she didn't go off-script with her "Single Jeopardy!" reference, pointing out that producers would have stepped in otherwise. "If it wasn't right, they would've had me redo it. I barely act alone ... there's so many things that we re-tape. If it was literally not kosher there's a million producers, writers and researchers and they're all listening to me."
"I say things all the time where they'll be like, 'What? Do it again.'" Bialik continues, laughing. "So it's not like Mayim's going rogue! Everything is very carefully monitored. There's a thing in my ear, I promise."
Not for nothing, but there's also precedent for the "Single Jeopardy!" label: Bialik says that dearly departed Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek himself was known to use it on certain occasions. "I know it may not be the norm, but ... it was not not out of the norm," she says. "I will never do it again! Even if it's in this script, I will not say it."
Despite that "Single Jeopardy!" brouhaha, Bialik says she's loving her time as a Jeopardy! host — a job she'll hold at least through the end of Season 38 and potentially beyond. "I love meeting all the contestants," she says when asked what her favorite part of the gig is. "I love to hear their stories. Some of them are academics, some of them are housewives and some of them are teachers. It's all different kinds of people who can hold information in a way that most of us cannot."
Bialik also uses the commercial breaks as a way to hear contestants' stories that wouldn't make it on the air. "I like hearing factoids about them, so I usually ask them about all the things that are on their cards. I'm interested in people, and it's just so fun to get to meet people from all over the country. I know it sounds weird, but especially with COVID, I don't meet a lot of people! I have the people that I work with and I have my kids, but I don't do a lot of things, so Jeopardy! is where I get to be social."
One contestant that Bialik is sad that she didn't get to spend more time with is Amy Schneider, whose recent 40-game winning streak is the second-longest run in the show's history. Schneider is also the first woman in Jeopardy! history to surpass $1 million in earnings, and the first openly transgender contestant to be part of the "Tournament of Champions."
In order to keep Schneider's streak a secret while it was happening in real time, Bialik didn't get to host any of her episodes. "I actually didn't even know when she lost until it aired," she reveals. "All I knew is that when I went back to work, she was either going to be there, or she wasn't, because I'm off every three weeks. So I just missed her."
Still, Bialik is thrilled that the Jeopardy! stage hosted such a "groundbreaking" contestant. "Representation does matter — it matters," she observes. "This was a historic moment and Amy is also just such a fun personality for everyone to get to experience. So we're very, very proud."
"It's funny," Bialik continues, chuckling. "I have a 13-year-old and a 16-year-old and we were talking about it, and I said, 'Isn't this amazing?' And because they're so woke and mom's know nothing, it was like I was the stupidest person on the planet! I think it was my younger one who said: 'We shouldn't even be talking about it — that's how normal it should be.' So that's where their generation is, and for us old folks, it's like 'Wow!'"
Jeopardy airs weeknights at 7 p.m.