The fate of “Jeopardy!” is in jeopardy — claim former players on the long-running game show.
As Dr. Mehmet Oz approaches the second day of his two-week stint as guest “Jeopardy!” host, former winners and contestants are voicing their concerns over the future of the ABC series.
Kathy Krebs, who failed to make it to Final Jeopardy during her episode in 2016, joked that she’s “no longer the most embarrassing thing to happen on the show” as a result of the Dr. Oz debacle.
“Dr. Oz is doing far more damage to that image than I ever could,” she told The Post.
“The whole thing is silly, but then to take Dr. Oz … I felt it was an insult to the memory of Alex Trebek — and to the contestants and the viewers,” said Heidi Sanchez, a two-time winner in 2007.
Last month, nearly 600 former players signed a petition calling for the removal of the celebrity MD from the star-studded lineup slated to host in lieu of late former host Alex Trebek, who tirelessly defended the show’s integrity during his 36-year tenure.
“Dr. Oz stands in opposition to everything that ‘Jeopardy!’ stands for,” decried petitioners in an open letter aimed at the show’s producers, namely executive producer Mike Richards.
” ‘Jeopardy!’ is known for being incredibly rigorous; a well-deserved reputation,” they concluded. “To then invite Dr. Oz to guest-host is a slap in the face to all involved.”
One of the letter’s authors has since come forward about her involvement in the movement.
“With such a large number of contestants, there aren’t many things we can all agree on,” co-writer Rachel Paterno-Mahler told The Post of the backlash against Dr. Oz. “But this was pretty universal across the board.”
Reps for Dr. Oz and “Jeopardy!” did not respond to The Post’s requests for comment.
Aside from Oz’s two-weeks — which began Monday and runs through April 2, the parade of television personalities to step in has included broadcaster Katie Couric, Richards and former “Jeopardy!” champion Ken Jennings. In weeks to come, pro-baller Aaron Rodgers, a self-proclaimed lifetime fan of the show, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and CBS journalist Bill Whitaker are slated to take the podium.
“One of these things is not like the other,” said Brenda Gant, whose turn on the show aired in February of last year.
Now, Gant and others are speaking out, pleading with producers to honor the show’s sacred, “fact-based” integrity, and a legacy set forth by their beloved Trebek.
“I think there is a worry,” Sean Anderson, a three-time winner in October 2015, told The Post. “No one is sure what the plan is,” he said of the search for a new host.
Jennings, who was the first interim host following Trebek’s death, is a favorite amongst fans and fellow ex-competitors.
“I certainly think Ken Jennings would be the ideal person just because he lives and breathes the show,” said April 2020 winner Hemant Mehta. “But there are plenty of options that would make total sense,” such as LeVar Burton, he and others suggested. “That would be pretty cool.”
Anderson said he doesn’t have “a favorite,” but Dr. Oz “stuck out” for the wrong reasons. “On the Cronkite-Jones Continuum,” he joked, referring to Walter Cronkite and Alex Jones of “InfoWars,” “Dr. Oz falls a little too close to Jones.”
“I feel like it’s just a publicity stunt,” added former champ Sanchez of the controversial guest-host choice.
Like many other fans, Sanchez believes it won’t be easy to replace Trebek, who gave the show a certain je ne sais quoi during the more than 8,200 shows he hosted. “When Alex adds something [to a clue] … that’s him, he knows this stuff.”
By contrast, Dr. Oz — who was friends with Trebek — has a reputation for touting pseudo-scientific theory in the absence of rigorous research and peer-supported evidence. Most recently, he made controversial comments about the reopening of schools which forced him to issue an apology.
“In Dr. Oz’s world, everything is a possible answer,” said Mehta, echoing a “running joke” within the former contestant community. Unlike Dr. Oz’s daytime talk show, “There’s no room for nuance in ‘Jeopardy!’,” he suggested.
Despite being one of the petition’s first signatories, Paterno-Mahler isn’t calling for a boycott of the show. Regardless of the current host, she said, “We are fully supportive of contestants on the show,” and joins fellow fans and former players as they continue to watch the game almost daily.
Even if producers confirm that Oz is out of the equation, some fans worry that the interim roster of hosts may indicate a shift in tone for the series — to put a greater emphasis on celebrity over the game itself.
“He’s popular, he’s successful,” said Tom Kelso, a three-time champ in 2002. “But he’s popular and successful for the wrong things.”
Trebek himself said the host should not be the star of the show, according to Jennings, who revealed that Trebek gave him sound advice days before he passed away.
“I spoke to him on the phone actually the weekend he passed,” Jennings, who was serving as consulting producer at the time, told “Good Morning America,” noting that Trebek said “the host is not the star of ‘Jeopardy!’ “
“It’s just hard to imagine that in the TV landscape today, a star of his size saying, ‘Hey, the game is not about you’ — but that was great advice.”
Kelso agreed, telling The Post the show made him — not the host — feel like the star. “And that’s because of Trebek. That was his mantra.“