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Is ‘Jeopardy!’ in jeopardy? Past local contestants react to host limbo

UPDATED: Sun., Sept. 5, 2021

Answer: What is a tumultuous transition? The Mike Richards era as host of “Jeopardy!” was as short – five episodes – as the legendary Alex Trebek’s run was long – 36 years.

Richards resigned in August over offensive comments he made in the past. And “Jeopardy!,” arguably the most iconic, respected and stable game show in the genre’s history, is suffering from personnel jeopardy.

The ship is rudderless since Richards exited the show as host and executive producer shortly after being named as one of the game show’s two new hosts. However, Richards, 46, departed shortly after the Ringer broke the news regarding sexist and inappropriate comments he made during a podcast.

Nine Mile Fall’s Staci Huffman, who won $29,201 on “Jeopardy!” in 2018, was taken aback by the news of Richards’ departure.

“I’m surprised,” Huffman said. “I didn’t realize there was so much turmoil. When it was announced that he (Richards) would host, it seemed like a situation in which he was looking for a good host, but he decided to pick himself. That left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s so different than what it was like with Alex Trebek.”

Huffman, who is a CPA at Eide Bailly LLP, enjoyed her experience with Trebek.

“Alex was the nicest guy who worked so hard with his staff every day,” Huffman recalled. “When I was on the show, he wasn’t sick yet. He wasn’t diagnosed yet. He just signed a new contract. You had the feeling that there was no need to worry about anything since you figured Alex would be around for years.”

There is no answer yet for the question who will replace Richards.

“Everybody loves LeVar Burton, but I don’t know if he would be the best host,” Huffman said. “But I can’t really say since he got very little time (as guest host).”

However, South Hill’s Melissa Stewart, who competed on “Jeopardy!” in 2018, believes Burton would make a fabulous host of the show, which commenced in 1964.

“As a Gen Xer, I would love to see LeVar as the host of ‘Jeopardy!’” Stewart said. “I loved him on ‘Reading Rainbow.’ He appeals to people of my age, and my parents remember him from ‘Roots.’ A big reason to consider LeVar Burton is that he’s scandal free. He’s also great on camera. He’s an actor, and I believe he would be phenomenal as host.”

Stewart, 45, who is the global events coordinator for Uber, wasn’t surprised that the show would have issues after Trebek passed away in 2020.

“They had big shoes to fill,” Stewart said. “You knew it wasn’t going to be easy to replace Alex.”

Despite the crisis, Stewart believes that the show, which was created by late talk-show host Merv Griffin, will be fine once a new executive producer and host are hired.

“I believe ‘Jeopardy!’ will bounce back,” Stewart said. “’Jeopardy!’ is an institution and isn’t going anywhere despite all of this. ‘Jeopardy!’ is one of the last bastions of what people consider to be honest television. It has few frills and is one of the few places on television where smart people get paid money to be smart.”

Stewart believes one of the smartest and most successful “Jeopardy!” candidates, Seattle’s Ken Jennings, may ultimately replace Trebek. “Ken Jennings has a good shot to be the ‘Jeopardy!’ host since he’s engaging, people like him, and he has the background hosting trivia shows (“Trivia Bowl”). He comes across as a nice, articulate and humorous guy.”

No matter what happens, Stewart and Huffman will continue to watch “Jeopardy!”

“I’ll certainly continue to tune in,” Huffman said. “’Jeopardy!’ is an American institution. I’ll never forget being on the show.”

It’s not surprising that the memories are indelible for Huffman, who looks back fondly on her experience with Trebek.

“When I was sitting in the audience after I lost, who comes by but Alex Trebek, and he said, ‘Oh, there goes Staci! Hi, Staci!’ I was a fan as much as I was a contestant,” she said. “Even after I lost, I wanted nothing more in Los Angeles than to watch ‘Jeopardy!’ in that studio. I love the show, and that’s not going to change.”

Huffman notes that the show will not only name a new host and executive producer but will have to eventually replace announcer Johnny Gilbert. The 93-year-old staple has been “Jeopardy!’s” announcer since 1984.

“No one is talking about, it but one day someone is going to have to take over for Johnny,” Huffman said. “Someone will replace Johnny just like Alex Trebek will be replaced. No matter what, ‘Jeopardy!’ will continue. There is no game show like it.”

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