I got the memo about Alex Trebek potentially leaving Jeopardy! in 2016, and that sent my mind into a frenzy (accompanied by the ping-pang-pow sound effect of a Daily Double). Alex Trebek’s name is synonymous with Jeopardy! for a reason: He is an astoundingly great host who knows so much trivia and loves the learning process. You might think his knack for accents and correcting contestants is pretentious or annoying, but that discipline is so essential to the dignity and respect of the show’s difficult material. Hell, this man hosts the National Geography Bee every year. He is a TV legend and it pains me to think of him departing the series.
But the task becomes a little bit easier when I think of some of the qualified people who could replace him. A few names have been thrown about loudly — particularly Matt Lauer’s and Anderson Cooper’s — but I’m ranking the ten best possibilities regardless of what’s being speculated. Here they are: The ten worthiest future Jeopardy! hosts.
10. Ben Bailey
I’m a big fan of the old game show host pool, when people like Tom Kennedy, Bert Convy, and Bill Cullen hosted plenty of different game shows before settling on signature programs. I’d like to keep that tradition alive by inviting the successful, Emmy-winning host of a recent quiz show phenom, Cash Cab, and inviting him to try his chops on the definitive trivia experience. Cash Cab featured difficult material, but the reason the show worked was because of the smart, yet down-to-Earth presentation of its host, Ben Bailey. Bailey was stuck hosting the recent failure Who’s Still Standing, so I think he’s earned his chance at the Jeopardy! lectern.
9. Pat Sajak
Believe it or not, Pat Sajak hosted Jeopardy! once before. On the April Fools’ Day episode in 1997, he exchanged hosting duties with Trebek (who took over on Wheel of Fortune that day), and he did a pretty killer job with Q&A responsibilities. Sajak is supposedly smart (he’s a Mensa member!), despite his op ed dabbling in right wing politics. Still, to his credit he’s probably the most underrated funnyman on TV. He has serious off-the-cuff comic chops, and within every single episode of Wheel, he unleashes numerous witticisms that are often biting without being mean. If it’s possible to pull double duty on Wheel and Jeopardy!, Sajak is the man to do it.
8. Mark McGrath
Seem strange? Not to me. The Sugar Ray frontman and Extra host proved his trivia mettle as a celebrity contestant on Rock & Roll Jeopardy! more than once, creaming his competition. McGrath knows a lot of music trivia and, based on how great he is at providing commentary on VH1’s various talking-head shows, seems to appreciate knowing a lot of information. The USC grad is also chummy in just the right way, and it’d be fun to see him in a daily format where he could prove his intelligence constantly.
7. Matt Lauer
When I heard the rumor about Matt Lauer as Alex Trebek’s replacement host, I was heartened. Lauer is smart, to the point, and the kind of guy whose very august presence would inspire contestants to do well. Admittedly, I’m worried that he’ll basically amount to Alex Trebek Lite, a smilier, less avuncular version of Alex’s familiar “Oooh, sorrryyyy” brand of headmastership. But he’d certainly do the job well. We can’t complain if Lauer wins the job, unless of course he forces out Johnny Gilbert and only allows him a tearful, two-minute farewell before hitting the road.
6. Tim Gunn
Yes, there are intelligent people on TV, but Tim Gunn is the rare professorially intelligent man on TV. The Parsons veteran and Project Runway guru is so charming, literary, and articulate that he’s a throwback to a truly bygone era. He’s beyond Alex Trebek; he’s the heir to John Charles Daly of What’s My Line?, and he boasts the same cosmopolitan savoir-faire and penchant for formalwear. On Jeopardy!, he’d finally be acquainted with people whose intellect matches his. That’s a victory for smart gay guys everywhere.
5. Don Lemon
The gorgeous newsman would be a whiz on Jeopardy! while being cool and collected enough to conduct fine contestant interviews (which was never Trebek’s strong suit, even though his strange social skills make the competition even better and, well, more antisocial, I say). The 47-year-old beaut is still waiting for a primetime breakthrough. Let’s give him a primetime breakthrough.
4. Rachel Maddow
Now, I don’t want Rachel Maddow to leave her job either, but I wouldn’t hate her for maintaining the high integrity of Jeopardy!’s game by hosting the show and offering up her brilliance every night in syndication. Also: Jeopardy! hosting requires masterful elocution, and her flawless skills at an anchor desk prove the accents and proper names of the game’s clues would be no match for her.
3. Anderson Cooper
This makes perfect sense. Not only is Anderson Cooper a three-time Celebrity Jeopardy! champ (or “Power Players” as the tournament has been rebranded), but he was once the professionally austere host of ABC’s awesomely underrated reality series The Mole. Cooper loves the fun of smart games, for sure. He’s been trying to navigate his place in the daytime programming world for awhile now, and Jeopardy! might be the perfect fit for the interesting cross-section of journalistic fact and old-fashioned charm that he represents.
2. Brian Williams
I thought I was a genius for thinking of Brian Williams for the Jeopardy! gig, but it turns out he’s on the shortlist of actual nominees to replace Alex. What a wonderful match: He’s extremely educated, loves being extemporaneous on air, and doesn’t mind being a smart-ass. Again, you can pretend that Alex Trebek is somehow too smug, but that stuffiness keeps the contestants competitive and on their toes. Brian Williams would keep the tradition of real intelligence and fun bastardliness alive.
1. Meredith Vieira
Who doesn’t love Meredith Vieira? Not only is she an Emmy-winning journalist and a kickass talk show host, but she’s an excellent game show host! It was a tall order to follow in the shoes of Regis Philbin when she took over Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, but it’s pretty clear by now she improved upon Philbin’s work by a landslide. Where he was simply shticky, Vieira was contemplative, funny, sympathetic, intelligent, and cool on every single episode. She’d strike just the right tone on Jeopardy!, and by God, she’s earned the gig. You go, fabulous lady.