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LeVar Burton says not getting ‘Jeopardy!’ job was a ‘humiliation’

"I didn’t expect that I would not be their choice for host,” the actor expressed.
LeVar Burton hosting "Jeopardy!"
LeVar Burton hosting "Jeopardy!"Carol Kaelson / JEOPARDY PRODUCTIONS, INC.
/ Source: TODAY

LeVar Burton is opening up about his reaction to not being named the host of “Jeopardy!” last year.

The actor, who is hosting the 94th Scripps National Spelling Bee this week, spoke to Newsy’s “In the Loop” about landing his new gig.

In a clip from the interview with the outlet, which airs on Wednesday, Burton revealed that he was contacted about working with Scripps National Spelling Bee around the same time he was not selected as one of two “Jeopardy!” co-hosts.

“It happened in the same time frame, if not the same week, that I was not named the host of the game show that shall not be named,” he said in a video posted on social media. “And so to get the call from Scripps Spelling Bee about hosting this tournament was a huge balm on an open wound.” 

He continued, “I thought, ‘Ah, at least they see me. They see me, they see me.’ I’m definitely one to go where I’m wanted and loath to go where I’m not invited.”

When Newsy’s Christian Bryant joked that Burton was treating “Jeopardy!” like “Harry Potter” villain Voldemort by refusing to utter the show’s name, the actor replied, “The truth is, it was my favorite game show. It really was.”

He recalled being a devoted fan of the show since the third grade when Art Fleming, who started heading the program in 1964, was the host.

“I honestly thought that I was well-suited for it,” Burton shared. “As it turns out, it really wasn’t a competition after all. The fix was in.”

After he wasn’t chosen, he said, “Experiencing a very public defeat — a humiliation if you will — was sobering.” 

"I think it was in that first week of feeling really, sort of, not just disappointed, but wrecked," he added. "I didn't expect that I would not be their choice for host."

But, he also walked away believing that everything happens for a reason, adding, "The phone hasn't stopped ringing."

Burton expressed a similar sentiment during his appearance on “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” in September 2021.

“The crazy thing is that when you set your sights on something ... they say, 'Be careful of what you wish for,' because what I found out is that it wasn’t the thing that I wanted after all,” he told Trevor Noah at the time. “What I wanted was to compete. I mean, I wanted the job, right, but then, when I didn’t get it, it was, like ‘Well, OK, what’s next?’”

Burton was one of many rotating guest hosts who stepped in after Alex Trebek’s death

The actor posted on social media about wanting to take on a long-term position with the show. Ultimately, Mayim Bialik and Ken Jennings were chosen as co-hosts in September 2021. 

A separate snippet from Burton’s Newsy sit-down, which Bryant tweeted on Tuesday, showed the actor reflecting on his decades-long career in show business. 

During their talk, Burton referred to his previous roles — portraying Kunta Kinte in “Roots,” playing Geordi La Forge in the "Star Trek" franchise and being the host of the educational program "Reading Rainbow” for over 20 years — as the “tentpoles” of his career.

Bryant wondered which one of Burton’s shows he will be remembered for. 

Burton responded, “I think if I were to be remembered as the guy who just wanted kids to read, I’d be good with that. You know? That would be a fantastic legacy.”

“I suspect that 'Reading Rainbow' will be the first line of my obit. I think. I’m not sure. I won’t be around to see it, so it really doesn’t matter,” he said laughing.

With a more serious tone, he added, “I think 'Reading Rainbow,' because at this point most of the adult population of a certain age, 40 and under, they all grew up on the show. And it’s a sweet spot of their childhood, so it’s a really emotional connection that I have with your generation. I treasure that.”

He shared that he takes pride in feeling like he helped raise a generation of children to be conscious, aware and caring.