Jeopardy! In Jeopardy? The Mayim Bialik Issue

Donovan Boros, Contributing Writer

Every night at 7:30 pm, the most popular game show ever airs on the NBC network. It has been running since September of 1984 and has since attracted the attention of millions of households, including my family’s. One of the factors that have made Jeopardy! so successful is the host. There have been many hosts of Jeopardy!, but when people think of Jeopardy!, they think of one man: Alex Trebek and his 37 amazing years on the show. Yet, on November 8, 2020, at the end of a valiant fight with pancreatic cancer, he passed on. While the world mourned a good man who, for decades, had been a fixture in such a dynamic world, the search was on for Jeopardy!’s new host. 

After months of deliberation, Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik now share the role of Jeopardy! host on an alternating schedule. While having a female host is great for diversity and representation, and Bialik is definitely qualified to be host, many viewers feel that she dilutes the spirit of Jeopardy!.

[Jeopardy!] honors the most natural and human type of learning.

Watching Bialik host for the first time, my mom disparaged her every word and seemed annoyed at her very existence. “Even though I like that Mayim is a very smart woman, I feel like she just wants this role to put another feather in her cap”, she laments. “Normally I would root for women, but in this context, I am rooting for Ken Jennings.”  

The fans seem to agree. In a poll conducted by TV Insider, 82% of fans preferred Ken Jennings to be the sole host, followed by 6% favoring Mayim Bialik, and a shocking 5% who accepted the current alternating model. This can mean two things. One, the suits at Jeopardy! HQ is so out of touch with their audience that they simply didn’t foresee this. Or two, they chose Bialik in a bid to shift the audience of Jeopardy! and broaden its scope. Either way, they are ignoring a key aspect of what makes Jeopardy! so popular, and something Alex Trebek understood better than any other: what Jeopardy! has come to mean.

There is an illusion that Jeopardy! is a show for smart people, but Alex knew that Jeopardy! is a show for people who want to be smart. People often tout that Bialik is a neuroscientist. It’s undeniable that you have to be smart to obtain a Ph.D. in neuroscience, but that doesn’t necessarily make her a good fit for the show—it just means that she values the use of knowledge. Ken Jennings,  on the other hand, values the pursuit of knowledge itself—that much is evident in his record 74-game winning streak on the show. 

It’s clear from the way Bialik interacts with the contestants in a rather uninterested manner that she doesn’t quite understand what makes Jeopardy!, Jeopardy!. The best contestants are not all neuroscientists and professors, but rather gardeners, bartenders, and Uber drivers. What they have in common is that they have a passion for learning largely useless trivia, not only to compete on Jeopardy!, but because they love to. 

Jeopardy! is successful because it celebrates and encourages that type of learning. It honors the most natural and human type of learning—what we pick up through living in our world, from being individuals. While I don’t blame Mayim Bialik for trying to take on the role, if the question arises once again as to who should be the host of Jeopardy!, anyone involved in the decision should think long and hard about what Jeopardy! means in the first place.

This piece also appears in our October 2022 print edition.