Oh, what a time to be a contestant on Jeopardy!. For decades, the game show had been focused squarely on the questions and answers, but since the November death of longtime host Alex Trebek, the question of who's going to fill that role permanently, has left it mired in controversy.
As a result, contestant Matt Amodio, who had won $574,801 over 18 games going into Monday's season premiere, had already played with four different people at the podium: LeVar Burton, Robin Roberts, Joe Buck and David Faber. The host of Monday's game was his fifth — Mike Richards, the show's former executive producer who had also been named host. Richards lost both jobs after offensive and sexist comments he'd previously made were pointed out. (He had taped the first five shows of the season before his departure. Mayim Bialik, who had been scheduled to host primetime Jeopardy! specials, will take over for the next three weeks, as a final decision is made.)
"Frankly, the last thing I'm thinking about when I'm in the middle of a game is who's hosting," Amodio told the Washington Post in a new interview. "I've had people say, 'Oh man, you've moved on to your fourth host, that has to be difficult.' And I would say, 'Well, you're right, but I didn't even realize that, necessarily.' Cause I'm trying to pull these really obscure facts out of my brain, and that takes all the mental energy I can afford at the moment."
As well as his run is going — Amodio was already ranked third on the list of most money won on the show — he admitted that he was crushed he didn't have the chance to experience it alongside Trebek, who died of pancreatic cancer in November 2020.
"He was a symbol to our society, and there's no way that transition can happen without it being a big shock to people," Amodio said of Trebek. "And that, I will say, is my one real regret. Things are working so well for me on Jeopardy! and I'm so tremendously grateful for the opportunity the show has given me, but it just didn't work out, timing wise, to meet Alex."
Amodio also commented on another divisive subject — the way he responds to every clue with "what is?" even if the response is a person or a place. Turns out, it's a winning strategy.
"I didn't think it would be overly noticeable to viewers. Maybe some super die-hards, it would raise their eyebrows, but I left wondering if anybody would ever comment on it at all,” Amodio said. "Then, not only did somebody comment on it, it was kind of the main focus of the discourse. . . . I actually found it kind of amusing, that people could be so irritated by it. But the only problem I had was when people interpreted it as a sign of disrespect. That was obviously not at all what I intended."