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We Have the Solution to Jeopardy’s Hosting Crisis

Who is Watson?
August 26, 2021
We Have the Solution to <i>Jeopardy</i>’s Hosting Crisis
YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, NY - JANUARY 13: Host of "Jeopardy!" Alex Trebek attends a press conference to discuss the upcoming Man V. Machine "Jeopardy!" competition at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center on January 13, 2011 in Yorktown Heights, New York. (Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images)

With Alex Trebek’s passing, Jeopardy faced a conundrum. The Canadian-born host of the show had served as the presenter for some 36 years, between 1984 and 2020, when he died. He was not the first or only host of the show—Art Fleming preceded him in a previous iteration of the program—but he was synonymous with it by the time of his death, an icon of providing clues that must be answered in the form of a question.

The show must go on, however, and the brain trust at Sony figured that the best way to ensure its continuation was to have a bunch of celebrity hosts demonstrate how good they were at reading clues off a screen. From Dr. Oz to Aaron Rodgers to Joe Buck to beloved former champ Ken Jennings, the part-timers demonstrated various strengths and weaknesses. And the game-show-ification of picking the new game show host led to fan campaigns for well-known alpha-nerds (such as Levar Burton) to get a shot.

And then a new host was chosen. It wasn’t a familiar face like Katie Couric or Savannah Guthrie or Anderson Cooper, a smooth-talking presence who has spent their career delivering the news to viewers like us. No, it was . . . Mike Richards?

Not Michael Richards, from Seinfeld, but Mike Richards? The guy who was a producer on the show? The guy who was running the search to find a permanent replacement just . . . picked himself? He pulled a Dick Cheney on us?

Outrage ensued. Richards was dumped. And our most beloved and wholesome reality TV show was plunged into existential crisis.

But there’s hope. There’s a way to save Jeopardy.

Here’s the thing: The problem with vetting isn’t limited to Richards. You see, human beings are flawed and problematic just by their very nature.

When Richards was given the regular hosting gig, Sony also announced that Blossom herself, Mayim Bialik, would be hosting special episodes of the show. She was quickly Milkshake Ducked in ways that were both fair (her comments about Harvey Weinstein’s victims are not great!) and unfair (the IDF is fantastic, I’m glad she supports it). It was her comments about C-sections (namely, that babies delivered thusly may be evolutionarily suspect) that gathered the most heat, though this lambasting seems as though it could fall into the “not fair” category. Hard to say.

The point is, you don’t really want the apolitical, non-controversial, widely-beloved host of your knowledge-based game show having to explain her real feelings on whether babies not of woman born should, you know, exist.

And lots of the other auditioners had problems, too. I mean, you don’t want someone combing through Dr. Oz’s history, I guarantee you. Ken Jennings has already had to apologize for being kind of a dick on Twitter and also doing a podcast with The Bean Dad. Imagine Anderson Cooper being forced to answer hard questions about every outré thing Kathy Griffin did on New Year’s Eve. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Levar Burton was trafficking Trekkie organs at the behest of cartel bosses.

But there is one innocent in this world. A pure being whose thirst for knowledge is unquenchable. And that entity is the show’s indisputable champion, the absolute best of the best.

I speak, of course, of Watson, the artificial intelligence program that showed a decade ago why humanity will never survive the robot uprising. Watson was literally designed to be the holder of all knowledge and the answerer of all questions. He was made for this job.

Unlike Mike Richards, Watson is good at trivia. Unlike Mayim Bialik, Watson does not have rude things to say about Harvey Weinstein’s victims. Watson defeated Ken Jennings in brain-to-neural-network combat. Watson has never pushed scam medicines on people. Watson doesn’t have a secret OnlyFans account and isn’t flaming people on Reddit. Watson will never tweet something regrettable.

He is, quite simply, pure. Pure in a way we dirty bags of meat can never hope to be.

Granted, there are some technical limitations to overcome—Watson’s voice sounds a bit mechanical in those old clips—but I have good news: we have the technology to overcome this. You could make Watson sound like just about anyone. Samuel L. Jackson, if you want him to have an edge, say. Or, and I’m just spitballing here, Alex Trebek himself. After all, there’s no shortage of audio to sample. If you can make Anthony Bourdain read his old emails from beyond the grave, there’s no reason you can’t make Watson sound like Alex Trebek.

Yes, a disembodied Alex Trebek booming down from speakers in the studio skylight might be creepy at first. We will come to love him, though. Only Watson can save Jeopardy. He might not be the hero we deserve. But he is the hero we need.

Sonny Bunch

Sonny Bunch is the Culture Editor of The Bulwark. Before serving as editor-in-chief of the film site Rebeller, he was the executive editor of and film critic for The Washington Free Beacon. He is currently a contributor to The Washington Post and his work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, Commentary Magazine, The Weekly Standard, and elsewhere. He is a member of the Washington Area Film Critics Association