Football star Aaron Rodgers loves ‘Jeopardy!’ and has a game plan to succeed Alex Trebek
When Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers begins his two-week stint as guest host of “Jeopardy!” on Monday, think of it as an audition. The Super Bowl MVP has been a fan of the game show since childhood and a “Celebrity Jeopardy!” winner in 2015.
He told The Times in an interview Friday that if viewers and producers like what they see, he would be happy to make it his next career. Rodgers, 37, spent hours studying the technique of the show’s late, legendary host Alex Trebek, who died in November from pancreatic cancer.
He has been reading Trebek’s memoir as well.
“I just wanted to really do right by his memory,” Rodgers said.
“Jeopardy!” will match the cumulative winnings of all the contestants competing during Rodgers’ weeks as host for a donation to the North Valley Community Foundation in Chico, the NFL star’s hometown. He shared some thoughts on how he prepared for his guest stint and what fans can expect.
NFL players tend to be very good performers in commercials and as hosts on “Saturday Night Live.” What is it that makes them so natural in front of the camera?
When I think about “Saturday Night Live” and football players, I think about Peyton Manning. I think he was absolutely fantastic on there. And I think about his commercial life; he was able to play a funnier, more sarcastic version of himself. He also hosted the ESPY Awards and did a great job.
What makes guys like him and myself good is probably the approach. For me, when I do a commercial with State Farm, or get ready to host “Jeopardy!,” the preparation that I put in is much like the preparation I put in for a game plan, because we want to be successful. I know a few stories about Peyton getting ready to host the ESPYs. He had a crazy approach to it, in the way that he rehearsed. He wanted it to be just perfect.
When I got ready to host “Jeopardy!” I watched hours and hours and hours of old episodes from a new perspective. Not as a player, trying to answer questions, but as a host. So I really watched and took notes on how Alex went about his process, and all the beats of the show. What was the order of things? What seemed to flow? What did I like as a viewer about how he introduced the categories in the game? How did I like the way he went about the interviews? What made those interesting, funny and special? I just watched all those beat points and really studied the heck out of him.
It’s like watching game tape.
It definitely was. The same focus that it takes to be successful on the field, I believe, is the same focus it takes to be successful at opportunities like this. I was taking copious notes on everything Alex said.
One of Alex Trebek’s talents as a host was being able to tape the show in almost real time with very few stops. How did you do?
The first day was definitely a little longer. The second day I was told that it was the first time we were on ‘Alex time,’ meaning we were ahead of schedule.
Way to go.
Yes, that was as big a thrill as anything. I think what you learn being on the show is how many pickups [minor film reshoots] that actually are done. They want to make sure that every clue is read and enunciated well. I noticed that when I was on the show as a contestant as well. They are going to make it look and sound as great as possible, and they have the opportunity to do that through post-game pickups or throwing it to a (commercial) break.
When we got into the second day, we were getting over fewer and fewer of those. But it is a lot. You’re really taking all 305 clues to read and you’ve got one night to kind of study them and figure out the flow, enunciation and the pause points on them. I felt I did a lot better as we got into the games.
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Tell me about your memories of watching “Jeopardy!” when you were growing up.
We used to do a week at my grandmother’s house. All the grandkids would get a week in the summertime. During that time they had a habit of watching “Jeopardy!” after dinner.
And where was this?
Ukiah, Calif., which is in Mendocino County. We would watch it at night and I always enjoyed it. I don’t watch a ton of TV. Sports and “Jeopardy!” are the main things that I watch. Once I got to Green Bay, it became a nightly routine. So over the last 16 years, it’s gone on at 6 o’clock on Fox 11. Whether I’m watching it live or taping it. I’ve seen a majority of the episodes over that time.
What are your strongest categories?
I would say anything obviously with sports. When I went on the show as a contestant, they asked me to name three categories that I liked. I think I said, sports, the Bible — growing up in a Christian home I thought it would give me an advantage — and history. I was a history major in college. The ones I struggle with — and I laughed about it when I was host — are anything on literature, especially from the 19th century or earlier. And the theater, like any type of operas, especially some of the more ancient ones. The head writers really always love to have a literature category, so the first day we got the clues, I was laughing when I was seeing that there were literature categories all over the first day of taping.
Have there been any discussions about you taking the host job on full time? Is this something you’re thinking about?
It’s definitely a dream job for me. They film 46 days a year. I worked about six months out of the year this last year. I worked 187 days this year in Green Bay, which gives me another 178 or 179 days to film 46 episodes. So look, it’s definitely a dream job for me. It was a dream to be able to be on it and to host. If the shows turn out well and there’s some momentum, I’d be honored to be in the mix to take the job for sure.
So you’re interested?
You are a “Jeopardy!” champion. If you were to face off against other NFL players in the game, who would be your toughest competitors?
I’ve been asked that question before, and I said Ryan Fitzpatrick. Quarterback. Been in the league forever. Brilliant guy. One of my former teammates, another Ivy Leaguer who is president of the NFL Players Association, is J.C. Tretter, who went to Cornell. He’s also really brilliant.
One guy I would love to beat — love, love, love to beat — is one of my former teammates now, Corey Linsley. Corey, who has been our center for a number of years, just signed with the L.A. Chargers. Corey is really brilliant. There is no one I would want to beat more if we were both contestants than Corey Linsley.
When: 7 p.m. Monday through Friday
Rating: TV-G (suitable for all ages)
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