Ken Jennings tapped to join Mayim Bialik as “Jeopardy!” co-host ... for now

While Jennings has had his own controversies, at least he's marginally better than the disgraced Mike Richards

Published September 16, 2021 6:04PM (EDT)

Ken Jennings attends the ABC Television's Winter Press Tour 2020 at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 08, 2020 in Pasadena, California. (Rodin Eckenroth/WireImage)
Ken Jennings attends the ABC Television's Winter Press Tour 2020 at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 08, 2020 in Pasadena, California. (Rodin Eckenroth/WireImage)

The "Jeopardy!" hosting saga continues. 

Ken Jennings, known as the highest-earning "Jeopardy!" contestant of all time, will be joining Mayim Bialik as co-host of the game show through the rest of 2021, Variety reported on Thursday. Jennings will assist with hosting duties on an interim basis, as Sony continues its search for a permanent co-host to join Bialik for its 38th season.

Jennings and Bialik will reportedly "trade off as their schedules allow," and film the remaining episodes of this year between Sept. 20 and Nov. 5. 

If you've been keeping up with the long, sprawling timeline of the "Jeopardy!" host search, you'll recall Jennings is replacing Mike Richards, a former executive producer of the show whose brief tenure as host was mired in scandal. Richards was briefly selected — by himself and presumably others on a search committee — to co-host the trivia show, until an onslaught of controversy all but forced him to step down.

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Jennings is not without his own detractors. When he was initially named as a "Jeopardy!" guest host following the death of legendary host Alex Trebek last November, old tweets surfaced of Jennings mocking the disabled. He has since offered a full apology, posting, "Sometimes I said dumb things in a dumb way and I want to apologize to people who were (rightfully!) offended. It wasn't my intention to hurt anyone, but that doesn't matter: I screwed up, and I'm truly sorry." 

He once again found himself mired in controversy in January after he came to the defense of John Roderick aka "Bean Dad," who co-hosts a podcast with Jennings. Bean Dad apparently only allowed his nine-year-old daughter to eat if she could figure out how to use a manual can opener to open a can of beans. Six hours later, his upset daughter was finally able to eat, and Bean Dad shared this teachable moment triumphantly on Twitter. Outraged folks railed on him and subsequently uncovered Roderick's racist, antisemitic and ableist tweets. When Jennings tried to chime in on behalf of his pal, he got pulled into the maelstrom. 

Despite all of this, Jennings is not as controversial as Mike Richards.

"Jeopardy!" fans were immediately outraged by the apparent corruption in Richards' selection as co-host over fan-favorite LeVar Burton. After Richards was revealed as a frontrunner in the hosting search, previous lawsuits against Richards for pregnancy discrimination and mistreatment of employees while at "The Price is Right" resurfaced. So did disparaging comments he about women, Jewish people and people of color on a podcast he once hosted. Following this report, Richards stepped down as co-host, but stayed on as executive producer — with some eyebrow-raising conditions — for a couple weeks, before ultimately stepping down from the show entirely.

As Jennings takes Richards' place in the coming months, he returns to "Jeopardy!" hosting duties after being the highest-rated guest host of the show in its 37th season. Since then the show filled its emcee slot with an expansive rotation of guest hosts. 

It remains to be seen who will be chosen or even if Jennings himself will claim the title. Being marginally better than the man who exploded his own career, however, isn't the best qualification for the job. With the show's reputation and legacy already tainted, whoever is chosen will have a huge PR ship to turn around.

By Kylie Cheung

Kylie Cheung is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She is also the author of "A Woman's Place," a collection of feminist essays. You can follow her work on Twitter @kylietcheung.

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Brief Jeopardy! Ken Jennings Mayim Bialik Mike Richards Sony Tv