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Haven't a clue who will be named the permanent host of "Jeopardy!"?
The quiz show, premiering its 39th season in September, has yet to reveal who will replace the beloved Alex Trebek, who hosted the program for decades following its 1984 revival. When Trebek died following a battle with pancreatic cancer nearly two years ago, producers lined up a series of celebrity guest hosts, made up mainly of news personalities and former contestants, to finish the 2020-21 season.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, actress Mayim Bialik and "Reading Rainbow" host LeVar Burton all expressed interest in the hosting job, but the show eventually selected executive producer Mike Richards, a move that proved controversial. Richards resigned less than two weeks later, due to controversy over past remarks and unrest among the show's staff.
Bialik and Ken Jennings, who tops the game show's leaderboard for consecutive victories and largest winnings accrued in the regular season, were tapped to split hosting duties for Season 38, and one of them is expected to be named the new permanent host before next season's episodes begin taping in early August.
But who will it be? Cue the Final Jeopardy! music. Here's what we know:
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Hosting decisions may come 'very, very soon'
Executive producer Michael Davies said at June's Daytime Emmy Awards that he hoped to make "a hosting announcement very, very soon," Variety reported, and suggested that the two current hosts would continue to split some duties (Bialik is already signed to host tournaments that air on ABC). "With all of our plans for ‘Jeopardy!’ – which is more ‘Jeopardy!,’ not less, more versions – we’re going to need multiple hosts to represent the entire audience, to represent the entire country, in order to take this franchise forward," he said.
Davies also addressed Richards' brief tenure, which he said was internally deemed "the awkward months." The saga, he said, “showed the power of our audience and how passionately our fans care about the program, which is just so important."
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"Jeopardy!" announced Richards as host of its daily syndicated version on Aug. 11, when Bialik was named host for ABC specials and tournaments. But just days later, Richards came under fire over offensive remarks spotlighted by The Ringer. The report included several quotes from a since-deleted episode of Richards' podcast, "The Randumb Show," which he hosted in 2013 and 2014.
In the podcast, Richards repeatedly used offensive language to describe and denigrate women's bodies, and he also made an offensive comment about Jewish people, according to The Ringer. Richards confirmed in a statement that he took the episodes down and apologized for his words. He said that it was "humbling to confront a terribly embarrassing moment of misjudgment, thoughtlessness, and insensitivity from nearly a decade ago. Looking back now, there is no excuse, of course, for the comments I made on this podcast and I am deeply sorry."
While Richards temporarily stayed on behind the scenes at "Jeopardy!," by August's end, he'd been relieved of his producing duties at "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune."
But Bialik and Jennings are not free from their own controversies.
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Bialik was falsely labeled an anti-vaxxer in a Facebook post last July that correctly highlighted her doctorate in neuroscience, but misleadingly proclaimed she "refuses to vaccinate.” Bialik had clarified her position on vaccines in October 2020, explaining in a YouTube video that while she had not followed a traditional vaccination schedule for her two sons – Miles, 16, and Frederick, 13 – they have been vaccinated. Furthermore, Bialik and her sons have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Heather Besignano, a spokeswoman for Bialik, said in an email.
Bialik said that misconceptions about her position on vaccines date to a 2012 parenting book she wrote.
“I have never, not once, said that vaccines are not valuable, not useful or not necessary, because they are,” Bialik said in the YouTube video.
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Ahead of his first guest-hosting stint, Jennings took to Twitter in December 2020 to acknowledge past missteps on the platform.
"I just wanted to own up to the fact that over the years on Twitter, I've definitely tweeted some unartful and insensitive things," Jennings began. "Sometimes they worked as jokes in my head and I was dismayed to see how they read on screen."
Jennings faced growing backlash over a 2014 tweet that read, "Nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair." Other controversial tweets include a 2015 joke about a terminal "Star Wars" fan who viewed “The Force Awakens” before he died, and a 2017 tweet mocking then-President Donald Trump's son, Barron. These posts appear to have been deleted.
"Sometimes I said dumb things in a dumb way and I want to apologize to people who were (rightfully!) offended," Jennings tweeted. "It wasn't my intention to hurt anyone, but that doesn't matter: I screwed up, and I'm truly sorry."
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Viewer assessment: 'If Ken Jennings is host, I watch'
Jennings and Bialik landed in third and fifth place, respectively, in USA TODAY TV critic Kelly Lawler's ranking of the 16 guest hosts. She said Jennings' "ability to connect with contestants was key to his charm, considering he intimately knows what it's like to be in their shoes," and deemed Bialik "a solid, admirable guest host," complimenting her "innate sense of authority, due to her doctorate in neuroscience and noted activism."
But more recent reaction on social media favors Jennings.
One member of the Twitterspehere says he'll tune out if Bialik is hosting: "My current 'Jeopardy!' viewing pattern: If Ken Jennings is host, I watch. If it's Mayim Bialik, I keep spinning."
Another begged: "@Jeopardy please, for the love of God, make Ken Jennings the permanent host of Jeopardy, let Mayim do the tournaments but Ken is the GOAT for a reason!!"
But Bialik has some support. She "does a good job at hosting Jeopardy – I like her," one fan tweeted.
On the June 7 episode of "Mayim Bialik's Breakdown" podcast, the actress told guest Justin Long that “sometimes" people voice their preference for her over Jennings to her face. But "Sometimes I get, ‘We don’t prefer you to Ken.'"
Before she began hosting, Bialik told Newsweek that she "did not know the depth of in particular the social media presence of people who are so passionate about 'Jeopardy!'"
If Bialik is selected, she'll need to juggle the "Jeopardy!" production schedule with that of her Fox comedy "Call Me Kat," which returns for a third season this fall.
Contributing: Amy Haneline, Rick Rouan and Cydney Henderson
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jeopardy!: Who will host the quiz show, Mayim Bialik or Ken Jennings?