Ken Jennings 'terrified' to host 'Jeopardy!' on one-year anniversary of Alex Trebek's death

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Ken Jennings admitted he’ll never be able to fill the late Alex Trebek’s shoes on “Jeopardy!” but he’s doing his best. 

The legendary former champion reflected on the Emmy-winner’s legacy in an interview with USA Today and admitted he wasn’t “aware” he’d be hosting the quiz show on the one-year anniversary of Trebek’s passing. Trebek died on Nov. 8, 2020, after battling pancreatic cancer. He was 80 years old. 

“Apparently, everyone was aware that we were going to air [this episode] on the anniversary and nobody told me,” Jennings admitted. “They didn’t want to put that in my head. So I was not told until after [filming the episode] that it was the Nov. 8 show.”

In honor of the emotional episode, Trebek’s widow, Jean Currivan-Trebek, gifted Jennings a pair of her late husband’s cuff links.

“We miss you every day, Alex,” the show tweeted on Monday. 

“It’s a very tricky job. The mechanics of hosting ‘Jeopardy!’ are daunting. There’s a lot going on at once, and Alex made it all look so easy. But I can tell you firsthand, it’s not easy,” Jennings told the outlet. 

“You can’t stand on that stage and say those things without thinking about him,” he said. “Every time I’m up there, I’m doing Alex. Not just because he perfected it, but because that’s the only way I’ve ever seen it done.”

In September, after new host/executive producer Mike Richards’ ousting, the producers opted to have Jennings and actor Mayim Bialik take over for the remainder of the year.

Sony Pictures Television confirmed to Fox News at the time that Bialik will host several weeks of shows that will air through Nov. 5. After that, she and Jennings will split hosting duties as their respective schedules allow.

Jennings is still the record-holder for most consecutive wins and total earnings. He lasted 74 shows and took home $2.5 million in winnings back in 2004. 

Late ‘Jeopardy!’ host Alex Trebek (L) poses with contestant Ken Jennings (R) after his earnings from his record breaking streak on the gameshow surpassed 1 million dollars July 14, 2004 in Culver City, California.  
(Photo by Jeopardy Productions via Getty Images               )

He told Fox News shortly before Trebek’s passing that the TV star always maintained his professionalism but was very relaxed and friendly during commercial breaks, which might surprise game show viewers at home. 

“He’s still the same kind of authoritative figure, all that’s not put on. He’s got that old-school broadcaster thing. He’s that kind of old-school gentleman. But I think the thing that might surprise home viewers is that he’s not starchy or smug in any way,” Jennings told Fox News.

“[During commercial breaks] he’s actually loose and goofy and telling jokes and he does accents. He is much more the goofy uncle than the stern father stereotype,” he recalled.

The author added that throughout their relationship he admired Trebek’s actions and learned a valuable lesson from the icon a few years ago.

Trebek (L) and Jennings (R) developed a friendship over the years. 
(Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images)

“I was backstage with him at a tournament and it was before the cancer diagnosis, but he was having a rotten day. He was just feeling lousy. But then the music turned on and the announcer said his name and he just turned him to Alex Trebek and walked out there,” Jennings reflected.

“I asked him about it later and it was not a performance. You know, he’s somebody who actually feels best and is at his most confident and capable when he’s doing his job when he’s hosting ‘Jeopardy!’ because that’s the thing that he has made himself the best in the world at over the last 37 years,” he continued. “I really admire that.. just the idea that the thing you love, the place where you feel like you’re at home, can keep you going.”

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