We knew going into this week’s new Jeopardy! episodes that things were going to be awkward. Prior to Mike Richards’ ouster at the end of last month, in the wake of scandal and damning reveals of his past behavior, we already knew his one-week stint hosting would make for some strange viewing. (Richards had completed taping five episodes of the quiz show before he stepped down as host.) But after the full extent of his actions was brought to light, and he was also fired from his post as executive producer (simultaneously being let go from a similar position at Wheel Of Fortune), the prospect of having these installments of the long-running series air felt not just wearying, but downright uncomfortable. Should the series just yank them altogether, and spare us the sight?
They didn’t, and with good reason: It would really mess with the continuity of the program. As everyone who watches knows, whichever contestant wins the game one day comes back to defend their title as champion the next. Were the five new episodes featuring Richards as host to be pulled, it would throw a wrench in the machinery which guarantees the previous winner is back next time to fight for the privilege of retaining their crown. (Or at least potentially throw a wrench; current champ Matt Amodio is on quite the historic winning streak.) To mess with the continuity of episodes would not only be distracting for viewers at home, but also cause confusion with elements like Amodio’s total winnings, which would have appeared to swell without a single game being played.
But there’s a far more important reason to air these episodes, Mike Richards and all, and it has everything to do with a central philosophy of the show, one espoused by the late Alex Trebek, who would know best: The contestants, not the host, are the stars of the show. “My job is to provide the atmosphere and assistance to the contestants to get them to perform at their very best. And if I’m successful doing that, I will be perceived as a nice guy and the audience will think of me as being a bit of a star. But not if I try to steal the limelight! The stars of Jeopardy! are the material and the contestants,” he said in an interview. That mindset should serve well as a mantra when the hunt for Trebek’s permanent replacement resumes.
And it seems wise to follow his guiding principle when it comes to watching this week’s episodes. Forget Mike Richards—it’s not his show. (Admittedly, easier said than done, when he’s standing there on your screen, reading the clues.) The show belongs to the people who worked so hard to get there, contestants and winners alike. They’re the reason to tune in, and they deserve their moment in the spotlight. And by doing so, Jeopardy! also maintains fidelity to one of its other key themes: Ultimately, merit carries the day. Mike Richards didn’t deserve to be there, and soon he won’t be. But the real stars, the contestants? They earned the right to be on that stage. Let’s watch them do their best.