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Ken Jennings kicks off 'Jeopardy!' with emotional tribute to Alex Trebek

"Not many things in life are perfect, but Alex did this job pretty much perfectly for more than 36 years," Jennings said in his first episode as guest host.
/ Source: TODAY

Ken Jennings knows he can’t replace Alex Trebek but does hope he can do the late “Jeopardy!” host proud.

Jennings’ stint as guest host of the popular game show began Monday night with him opening the episode with some kind words for Trebek, who died at the age of 80 in November from pancreatic cancer. Monday’s episode was the first one taped since Trebek’s death.

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"Sharing this stage with Alex Trebek was one of the greatest honors of my life," Jennings said after announcer Johnny Gilbert introduced him.

"Not many things in life are perfect, but Alex did this job pretty much perfectly for more than 36 years. And it was even better up close. We were dazzled by his intelligence, his charm, his grace — really, there's no other word for it.”

Jennings, who joined “Jeopardy!” as a consulting producer this season, became a pop culture phenomenon when he won a record-setting 74 consecutive "Jeopardy!" games in 2004. He also holds the show record for most money won in regular season games with $2,520,700 and won the “Greatest of All Time” tournament on the show in 2020.

He became emotional while explaining what Trebek meant for millions of people who watched the show.

“Like all 'Jeopardy!' fans, I miss Alex very much," he said as his voice cracked slightly. "And I thank him for what he did for all of us. Let's be totally clear, no one will ever replace the great Alex Trebek, but we can honor him by playing the game he loved."

Jennings, 46, also had a good luck charm while behind the lectern — a ticket to Trebek’s pilot episode for “Jeopardy!”

He shared a photo of the stub on Twitter with the caption: “A friend gave me this piece of quiz show history: an audience ticket to Alex's very first Jeopardy! pilot from 1983. ('ALEX TREBEK! DOOR PRIZES!') I kept it in my pocket while guest-hosting Jeopardy! this week, as a good luck charm.”

Jennings may have impossibly big shoes to fill, but he said his wife gave him a key piece of advice to help him keep things in perspective.

"I called home after the first five shows I'd recorded as guest host, and she said, 'How'd it go?' And I said, 'Listen, I'm obviously no Alex Trebek.' And she was very kind. She said, 'Well, of course not. But do you think you might stand up to what he did on his first day?'" he said in a promotional video for him hosting the show

Jennings is the first guest host for “Jeopardy!” A permanent replacement has not yet been named.