The Jeopardy! guest hosts, ranked worst to best

The Jeopardy! guest hosts, ranked worst to best

From the disastrous Dr. Oz to the clear front-runner

Mayim Bialik, Buzzy Cohen, and Katie Couric on Jeopardy!
Mayim Bialik, Buzzy Cohen, and Katie Couric on Jeopardy!
Image: The A.V. Club

As we enter the sixth month of Jeopardy! guest hosts, there are some clear winners—and equally clear missteps—among the roster of those picked to briefly fill Alex Trebek’s very large shoes. What does seem obvious is that there’s simply no knowing who will make a good host until they’re up there on that stage, cameras rolling, delivering clues about everything from well-known brand names to the obscure mating habits of marsupials. As a result, The A.V. Club has assembled the names of every guest host thus far and ranked their performances, beginning with the ones whose names should be removed from consideration and ending with the best candidates to succeed Trebek. We’ll be updating this list in the coming weeks as additional guest hosts enter the fray (George Stephanopoulos, Robin Roberts, the much-vaunted LeVar Burton), in order to place them in the rankings as well. But we have to say, barring some unpleasant surprise, it’s going to be tough to displace our current last-place occupant.

Updated July 2: See where CNN contributor Dr. Sanjay Gupta lands in the rankings.

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11. Dr. Oz: The bad choice

11. Dr. Oz: The bad choice

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There’s all sorts of reasons to not make Mehmet Oz, a.k.a. Dr. Oz, the host of Jeopardy!, and many of them are well-documented. He’s a snake-oil salesman whose talk show routinely offers up questionable medical advice and makes recommendations with no evidence and/or directly contradicts scientific research. As a petition signed by more than 500 former contestants clearly stated, “Dr. Oz stands in opposition to everything that Jeopardy! stands for”—namely, rigorous adherence to facts. But surely, even on top of all that, his off-puttingly intense demeanor as host should be cited as one of the major disqualifiers to the position. Watching him run the show was discomfiting at best, exhausting at worst. The dude sucks. Let’s forget he was ever here.

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10. Katie Couric: The tourist

10. Katie Couric: The tourist

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Speaking of people who made it clear their time as guest host was limited: Katie Couric’s stint hosting Jeopardy! was an unexpected dud. Couric simply never seemed that committed to the role, instead treating her run on the show like an enjoyable gimmick that would make for a great anecdote at dinner parties. The news journalist and former Today cohost lacked the passion for the gameplay that signals a true fan of the quiz show (even low-key Aaron Rodgers clearly got involved in the spirit of the competition during his games), which by extension cooled the emotional investment of the audience at home. She was clearly having fun, but that’s about all you can say for her tenure.

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9. Mike Richards: The insider

9. Mike Richards: The insider

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Credit where credit’s due: The Jeopardy! executive producer was surprisingly effective during his stint as host, which is about all anyone could ask of him. He garnered a lot of audience goodwill thanks to the moving tributes to his former colleague Alex Trebek that kicked off most of his episodes; that, combined with a decent knack for holding down the control of gameplay borne of years spent running the show, kept his tenure solid. But ultimately, it was always clear he was just keeping the seat warm for someone else, the equivalent of a decent-enough substitute teacher: Sure, they’re acceptable for the time being, but always with the knowledge that their stay here is limited.

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8. Anderson Cooper: The safe choice

8. Anderson Cooper: The safe choice

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Anderson Cooper brought his signature unflappable nature when he showed up to spend a week hosting Jeopardy!, and the results were as reliable as you might expect—for better and worse. Cooper shepherded the show through some of the most dependably sturdy installments of the guest-host era, delivering what you might think of as “typical Jeopardy!”: smooth and engaging, with minimal hiccups, but rarely noteworthy. Making Cooper the permanent replacement would feel both wholly predictable and deeply unexciting as a choice of host. He gets the job done, but that’s about it. Cooper’s talents are best applied elsewhere, even if he can certainly fulfill the requirements of the job.

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7. Bill Whitaker: The professorial choice

7. Bill Whitaker: The professorial choice

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The longtime TV news journalist brings a gravitas with him to the role of Jeopardy! guest host, but also a sense of distance. The CBS newsman—and, more recently, 60 Minutes correspondent—felt a bit like a college professor during his time at the lectern: He was commanding, intelligent, and encouraging, but seemed more like someone you’d be trying to impress than you would be reassured by. He possesses the dulcet tones of a natural host, but it’s a firm-handed version of the show that would exist under his watch, operating at more of a remove from the proceedings. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it would take some getting used to.

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6. Savannah Guthrie: The smooth talker

6. Savannah Guthrie: The smooth talker

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It’s understandable that the guest hosts stumble over a word or two during their first minutes behind the podium: This is a one-of-a-kind gig, and no matter how much you prepare, it has to be a little disorienting once you’re out there. But Savannah Guthrie slid into the role of Jeopardy! host without so much as a clipped syllable for the entirety of her opening episode (we watched it twice just to make sure). That’s already impressive, but she continued on as though she’d been hosting the program for years—efficient but not rushed, easygoing and warm during interviews, and exuding a sense of polished-yet-enthusiastic energy at the opportunity to be a part of the beloved quiz show. She wasn’t the best, but she was better than most.

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5. Dr. Sanjay Gupta: The relaxed option

5. Dr. Sanjay Gupta: The relaxed option

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Now we know what a kinder, gentler Alex Trebek might’ve looked like. Not kinder in personality, of course, just in tone: Sanjay Gupta is smiling, calm, and genteel in a way that conjures up warm memories of Jeopardy!’s longtime host at his friendliest. The medical expert and familiar CNN contributor has been an especially appealing guest host when compared with the many hosts who have taken a crisper, more traditionally “professional” approach to the gig—looking at you, Anderson Cooper—and Gupta’s reassuring, likable presence has made him a master of managing the oft-tense Final Jeopardy! round. It wouldn’t be the most inspired choice, but in terms of continuing the tone and spirit of Jeopardy! that Trebek pioneered, he might be one of the best. (Plus, he positively shines in comparison to that other guest host who goes by “Dr.”)

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4. Buzzy Cohen: The next generation

4. Buzzy Cohen: The next generation

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The other major Jeopardy! champion besides Ken Jennings to host, Buzzy Cohen’s stint behind the podium during this year’s Tournament Of Champions proved that his nerdy, occasionally wry demeanor was a good fit for the game show. Like Jennings, he brings a sense of hard-won expertise and former-contestant amiability, his experience as a former champ obviously informing his performance in an empathetic, helpful way. If you wanted Jennings but Jennings said no, turn to Buzzy next. Plus, he’s the youngest of the candidates, and would offer a more youthful face to a daily syndicated-TV institution now in its fifth decade (seventh, if you count the Art Fleming years), an issue about which producers are doubtless extremely aware.

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3. Mayim Bialik: The joyous choice

3. Mayim Bialik: The joyous choice

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After her early penchant for over-enunciation calmed down (nearly all the guest hosts displayed some evidence of nerves in their initial outings), what sets Mayim Bialik’s style of hosting apart is her distinctive enthusiasm for Jeopardy! The Big Bang Theory star has demonstrated a passion for the trivia-based game that elevates the proceedings, a form of hosting that admittedly goes beyond the more reserved technique that Trebek perfected, and that audiences have been conditioned to expect. But that’s what makes her a good candidate for taking over—she would make the show her own, and in doing so, craft a more upbeat, more invigorating, and more all-around exuberant tone to the series. The infectious energy on her episodes clearly spreads to the contestants—and the audience.

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2. Aaron Rodgers: The comforting choice

2. Aaron Rodgers: The comforting choice

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Of all the guest hosts thus far, by far the biggest surprise has been longtime Green Bay Packers quarterback (and guaranteed future Pro Football Hall Of Famer) Aaron Rodgers. It’s not just that Rodgers demonstrated such a remarkable facility for hosting Jeopardy!, a quality that’s exceedingly rare even among non-world-famous athletes; it’s that he did so with an air of prenatural calm and warmth that’s striking in comparison to his fellow guest hosts. Rodgers was downright laconic at times, but never in a way that felt detached or distanced from the oft-obscure knowledge being discussed. He exudes a reassurance and mellow generosity of spirit that made for a superb host, one who always placed the game itself front and center, and never made it about himself. On second thought, maybe his day job was the perfect training, after all.

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1. Ken Jennings: The front-runner

1. Ken Jennings: The front-runner

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There’s a good reason why the longest-running Jeopardy! champ of all time was also the longest-serving guest host. His tenure kicking off the post-Alex Trebek era of the game show demonstrated why he’s still the one to beat when it comes to selecting a permanent replacement. Dependably professional but just idiosyncratic enough to bring his own demeanor and style to the series, he made Jeopardy! feel like a game that could exist with a slightly different personality and tenor under his stewardship, yet retain all the qualities that make the series great. That’s everything you could want in a new host, and Jennings delivers it with ease, wit, and above all, empathy for the contestants and their competition. After all, he’s spent more time in their shoes than anyone else.

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