Mayim Bialik: I'd Give Up My First Child to Host Jeopardy! Forever

Although Jeopardy! was a huge part of the cultural vernacular, even when I was young, I didn't grow up in a household that watched the show regularly. We just didn't watch much TV together. But during my time on Blossom, there was actually an episode where Alex Trebek appeared in a dream sequence. He and I didn't film together but it was enormously significant for our show to have such an iconic star appear. Jeopardy! was already such an enormous part of our culture.

Whenever I watched the show and tried to play along, I was the kind of person who always got everything wrong. The kind of knowledge you need for the show, like 16th-century French philosophy, is not where I excel. The truth is, I never thought that I would have the opportunity to take the path I am now on.

Earlier this year, my 15-year-old son told me that he had seen people online saying that I should guest host Jeopardy! I called my agent, Richard Weitz, and joked with him that my son and I thought I'd be great at hosting. Richard told me he was already on it. I'm not sure if he was pretending to be, or if he really was already on it, but a couple of weeks later I got a call from Jeopardy!.

When I first guest-hosted, I had to learn all the rules and the language of the show. My mom asked me why every answer was in the form of a question—that's how little she knew about Jeopardy! At least I knew that, but I was terrified to take on guest hosting. At that stage, there had already been guest hosts that the internet was buzzing about so I was really nervous.

But hosting felt very natural and I felt very connected to the crew and the staff. I rarely have the experience of feeling I belong somewhere after such a short period of time, yet I had a spooky—but positive—feeling when I was there. I remember saying: "I don't want to leave." At that point, I knew nothing about what was going to happen.

I never watch myself, and I was directing a movie I wrote, As Sick as They Made Us, when my episodes aired in June, but I tried to watch them after long days of shooting. I recall thinking that was strange; if you're going to watch yourself, why watch yourself when you're not really on camera? Something really drew me to keep tabs on how I was perceived; perhaps intuition about a future with Jeopardy!?

But I was so busy making this movie and I was also sure that someone newsy, like Savannah Guthrie, was going to be made the permanent host, so a lot of the buzz about me becoming a regular Jeopardy! host went in one ear and out the other. It is also a show that has such a legacy, and with the grief from Alex's death so fresh, I had no idea what the executive producers were going to want to do. I had to be patient.

Jeopardy! guest host Mayim Bialik
Mayim Bialik will be sharing Jeopardy! hosting duties with Ken Jennings through to the end of 2021. Storm Santos

I was actually called in to talk to Sony executives before I'd even unpacked from filming my movie. I was told that I was going to be hosting primetime specials and the Jeopardy! National College Championship and that there were a lot of possibilities with that. As someone who had a really positive college experience and took sports very seriously, the Jeopardy! National College Championship sounded awesome.

The first person to say to me, "You're going to get this gig" had been my long time friend and The Big Bang Theory guest cast member, Wil Wheaton, so when the news came out, he immediately said: "I was right! I knew it!" The person I hear from most quickly after Jeopardy! news hits the press is Candice Bergen, who stars in my movie. She obviously has her finger on the pulse, because I get an email as soon as any news about me comes out. Dustin Hoffman, who co-stars in my movie, also emailed me when he saw the news about me hosting more regularly, but he probably heard it from Candice, which is adorable. During filming of As Sick as They Made Us, they were both reporting to me as my episodes were airing, telling me how I did the night before.

I didn't immediately know who the other host was going to be, and after Mike Richards was announced as permanent host, a couple more weeks passed and then everything changed and Mike stepped down.

I think everyone who works with me will say that, as a person who has been acting since I was a kid, I go where I'm pointed and I do the job I'm told to do. I do what's in front of me. I don't really follow the news aspect of my industry too much.

Jeopardy! guest host Mayim Bialik
Mayim Bialik's episodes hosting Jeopardy! begin airing on 9/20. Storm Santos

That's how I approached what was going on. Of course I was in touch with Mike as he was my boss at that time, and I don't wish ill on him, or anyone. But the complexity of these situations is not something that can be summed up easily. My first response, when all of this went down, was to say to the Jeopardy! team: "How can I help?" Because I am part of this family.

I feel very honored to have been given the responsibility and the opportunity to step up into this hosting position. It's been as dreamy as it was for the two days that I guest hosted. I work very long days, but they fly by. We shoot five episodes a day and I get to meet fascinating people from all walks of life.

Of course, I am grateful and honored to carve out so much of my time on behalf of Jeopardy!, because I feel very connected to the show, the legacy and everything that Alex and the team behind the scenes have built.

It probably sounds crazy, but you definitely feel Alex's presence on that stage. As someone who didn't necessarily grow up with the constant presence of Alex in my living room, I feel him everywhere on that stage and I get to work with people who for decades worked so closely with him and whom he called friends. That's what feels really special.

There will never be another Alex, on camera or off. It's important not to try and be him, because you can't, but as I learn more about him, I see how much he made his life an act of devotion to humanity. That's the legacy that I hold so dear as I go to work each day.

I got to take over hosting duties in the middle of Matt Amodio's run. He's so on the ball and so well-rounded and easy-going, and I just marvel at that. So far, Ken Jennings—who I am sharing hosting duties with for the rest of 2021—and I have only had the chance to interact once at a press conference, he is much taller than I thought he would be! I look forward to the opportunity to talk to him more. I'll certainly take any pointers he's got!

I do go back and forth every day that I work, trying to decide whether it's more helpful that I'm an actor who happens to be able to think on their feet, or that I'm a scientist who can pronounce a lot of words that other people may have a harder time pronouncing. Unfortunately, my science credentials don't not help me as much as I wish they would! But being an actor who thinks very quickly—although not always correctly!—has definitely helped; I'd say about 75 percent of the time it's helpful that I am an actor.

Of course, there are times when I make too many jokes, or when I don't make enough jokes. One of the notes I received was that I sound too excited when people get things right. I had to be reminded that viewers watching at home expect the contestants to get a lot right, so I don't have to say "YES!" every time. But I am genuinely excited when they get things right—how can you not be?!

When I left The Big Bang Theory, I said that there would never be another job like it. It was the best job I had ever had, besides being a parent. I can now say that there is no other job I'd rather have than this job on Jeopardy!. I joke that I would give up my first child to host permanently! I think my son and I have a close enough bond that he will come back to me!

The way I see it is that I am in service in this job; in service to the clues and the contestants. Even though there is so much talk about me, I really feel like this is the job that is least about me. At 45 years old, after acting from the age of 11, it is fascinating that this dream job—one that I've been given the opportunity to dip a toe into—is the job where I need to make it not about me. If I mess up, it becomes about me. I need to simply be of service to the show.

Obviously I bring my personality to the stage, but for me this really is an opportunity to ensure that the focus is not on me. As an actor that's hard; as a recovering narcissist, that's hard! But I know that for Jeopardy! fans the show is best when you're not thinking about the host as much. To be part of such an iconic experience is completely astounding.

Mayim Bialik is hosting Jeopardy! from 9/20. The show airs weeknights, check local listings for further details. You can follow Mayim on Twitter @missmayim.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.

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