Savannah Guthrie shares ‘Jeopardy!’ nerves, biggest takeaway from Jean Trebek interview
In “Jeopardy!”? “Today” co-anchor Savannah Guthrie, the quiz show’s latest guest host starting Monday, says she initially “jumped at the chance” to host the “iconic” game show, following other journalists including former “Today” host Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper and Bill Whitaker.
But doubts began to surface.
“Later, I was like, ‘Oh, this is gonna be really hard. Am I ready for this? Can I really do this?'” she remembers. She worried that hosting a game show was “unlike anything I’ve ever done before,” especially “one that is that fast-paced, that is so precise.” Ultimately, “it was just so exciting, and such an honor to be asked, that I just had to do it.”
She prepared by devouring “Jeopardy!” episodes hosted by Alex Trebek, who died last November following a battle with pancreatic cancer. “You want to learn from the best,” she says. “You want to see someone who does it so exquisitely.”
Guthrie, 49, who picks up the quiz show baton from “Call Me Kat” star Mayim Bialik and will be followed by CNN’s chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta on June 28, reveals the most challenging part of her turn as host, whether she’d consider a full-time offer and more. (Answers edited for length and clarity.)
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Savannah Guthrie is the next guest-host of the beloved quiz show "Jeopardy!" (Photo: Courtesy Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)
Question: Take me back to your first day on set. Did you have any nerves walking in?
Savannah Guthrie: I did. I mean, I was really excited, but I also was intimidated. The producers and writers at “Jeopardy!” have been there (for) decades. They are truly at the top of their game. They’re the best at what they do, and the show is about excellence. It’s about knowledge. It’s about smarts, and it’s intimidating when you first walk in there. And I really wanted to do a good job, because I wanted to show how much I respected the game. I respect the house that Alex built.
Q: Was there any part of the role of host that posed a particular challenge for you?
Guthrie: What was most challenging about it is how fast paced it is. It’s not live, but the game portion of it is essentially (so that) there are no do-overs. You have to keep the game going – it goes really fast. And I knew that if I flubbed, if I accidentally blurted out an answer, or didn’t read the clue quite correctly, I could mess up the whole game. And there are contestants who have been waiting their whole lives to be there. So I felt like, “Alright, there’s really no room for error.”
Q: For “Today,” you recently spoke with Alex Trebek’s widow, Jean. What was your biggest takeaway from that interview and visit with their family?
Guthrie: To me, Mrs. Trebek is just pure grace, pure elegance. She’s just handled all of this with such strength. She and her kids are wonderful and they’re devoted to Alex and his legacy, and they’re a real family. They’re honest about missing him and trying to go on with their lives and finding a way to be a family without him, when he was so integral.
I was really touched that they took time and spoke with us about this path that they’re on, but I really also just grew to have even more respect for Alex, because not only was he really great at his job – and he was, of course, an instantly recognizable celebrity – he was really a very decent human being, a family man and just totally devoted and dependable. That’s what I really took away from getting to know his family, is just that he was a regular guy, who happened to have an extraordinary job, and have extraordinary talents. I mostly just thought you can be remarkable just by being a good human, and it really seemed that that’s what he was.
Q: I’m not sure how it would work with your current day job, but is hosting “Jeopardy!” permanently of interest?
Guthrie: I’m fully occupied with my full-time job, and I’m so happy at the “Today” show, and I would never leave. And I don’t know how it would even be possible to do both. What was fun about this was it was a lark, it was a one-time opportunity, and I don’t think there’s any question of me ever doing it permanently. So for me it was pure fun, no pressure.
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Savannah Guthrie says her "Jeopardy!" gig was "pure fun," because she didn't view being permanent host as an option. She's quite happy as co-anchor's of NBC's "Today," where she just celebrated 10 years. (Photo: Courtesy Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)
Q: At “Today,” you recently celebrated 10 years – a “Savannah-versary,” as it was dubbed. How do you view that accomplishment, and what did you think of the on-air celebration?
Guthrie: I just was totally blown away by the celebration they had on the show. I should’ve known, because when the “Today” show does something, they always go big. To be the person who got to have that, it was overwhelming. It was really meaningful to me. It meant so much to me.
When I look at the 10 years that have just passed, I feel like everything good in my life happened in these last 10 years. The “Today” show has made all my dreams come true professionally, and all my dreams came true at the same time, because I got married and had my two kids. So, I just really feel nothing but gratitude.
Q: This summer you perform your “Today” show duties from Tokyo, where you’ll also be covering the Summer Olympics and hosting its opening ceremony. How does that feel?
Guthrie: We’re so excited about the Olympics and the delay was so hard on the athletes. Can you imagine working your whole life for a singular moment and then being told you gotta wait? So I’m happy that the Olympics are coming back. I’m happy for the athletes who’ve been training so hard. I know they want to get their moment, and I think it’s gonna be really meaningful. It’s the first time the whole world has gotten together since the pandemic.
Q: There are doctors and citizens in Japan who think the games should be postponed or canceled. Does that affect coverage? How do you feel about safety concerns?
Guthrie: I think safety has to be the number one concern. I’m trusting that the Olympic officials and the Tokyo officials are going to make the best possible decisions with the safety of the athletes and the community of Tokyo in mind. We’ll cover the events, and there’s not going to be spectators in the stands from overseas, so there will be certain aspects of it where it’s a little different. But we’ve gotten used to that this year in sports… I hope and believe that they’ll put health and safety first. That’s what the priority should be, and we’re hopeful that the games will go on and we’ll have some great competition to cover.
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