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On the last days of each of their guest hosting stints, Anderson Cooper and Bill Whitaker both said something like

Alex [Trebek] made hosting Jeopardy! look easy, but it's not.

I'm sure it's a little harder than most other game shows, because the host has to recite all the questions quickly after they're revealed, and some of them can have complex words or phrases. But what else do they have to do that would make it difficult? They're not judging the players' answers, there are judges for that. Both Cooper and Whitaker are veteran journalists, they have plenty of experience interviewing people, so chatting with the contestants should be easy for them.

"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" looks like it would actually be more stressful to host. You have to chat continuously with the contestant while they're thinking about the answer, and say meaningful things about the question and possible answers, but avoid revealing too much.

Trebek was also an executive producer of the show, and from reports and interviews I've heard he was very involved in the production. But I doubt guest hosts do much more than just host the episodes. Since each did two weeks of shows, and Jeopardy! tapes a week of shows in one day, it was just 2 days work for each of them.

I originally thought of posting this question when Cooper said it, but I thought he was just honoring Trebek's memory by saying something nice. But when Whitaker said the same thing, I decided it might not be just a pleasantry, maybe there's something to it. But what could that be?

Note that my question is specifically about guest hosting. As I pointed out above, Alex did much more work on the show than just hosting, but I don't expect that the guest hosts are as involved.

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    Gravitas is not readily available to all humans. – Jason P Sallinger May 18 at 11:33
  • Regardless of how hard the job actually is, it's a polite thing to say. – Jontia May 21 at 8:37
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    @Jontia I agree, and that's how I took it the first time. But the second time I decided to investigate. – Barmar May 21 at 14:01
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Possibly something to do with the fact that they film 5 episodes a day during the filming period and the presenter having to make themselves look completely fresh for each and every one. It's a punishing schedule and for such a high-profile show, it needs to look perfect every single time.

The Official Jeopardy Website has an article detailing Trebek's working day:

5:15am when he wakes up. After a quick morning routine, he’s out the door at 5:30am sharp and in his truck on the way to Stage 10 to shoot five episodes of Jeopardy! A quick 30-minute commute puts him in Culver City at 6am
6:00 - 7:30am: Reads the newspaper, does the daily crossword puzzle, signs autograph requests and viewer mail.
7:30 - 8:45am: Receives the five "show scripts" for the day from head writer Billy Wisse, and reviews each script, making diacritical marks, looking up pronunciations, identifying potential problem clues, etc.
8:45am: Meet with Rocky Schmidt, Supervising Producer, to go over schedules, personal appearance and publicity requests, etc.
9:00 - 10:00am: Meets with Harry Friedman, Lisa Broffman, Billy Wisse, C&P, and other writers and researchers and go over all five shows, discussing issues anyone may have found in those shows.
10:00 - 10:30am: Relaxes in his dressing room, where the TV is usually tuned to the news or Turner Classic Movies.
10:30 - 11:15am: Hair and makeup.
11:15am - 12:00pm: First show of the day tapes during this time, and the games usually tape true to time, unless there is a technical problem. During the tapings of all shows, in the commercial breaks, Alex has a back-and-forth discussion with the audience, takes questions, and engages in playful banter with the audience.
12:00 - 12:15pm: Changes into a new suit. The returning champion also changes clothes so that people at home don't wonder why they only have one outfit for the week.
12:15 - 1:00pm: Alex tapes the second show for the day.
1:00 - 1:15pm: New show, new suit.
1:15 - 2:00pm: Tapes the third show of the day with the same audience. Each tape day has two audiences – the first audience sees the first three tapings, the second audience sees the last two.
2:00pm: If there are special promotional requests, Public Service Announcements, contestant search promos, and anything else to record, those are done at this point. Then the whole crew breaks for lunch from 2:00 to 3:00, where Alex usually enjoys the soup of the day or sushi.
3:00pm: Make-up/touchup.
3:00 - 3:45pm: Tape fourth show in front of a "new" studio audience.
3:45pm: Last suit of the day.
3:45 - 4:15pm: Tape the last show of the day – the fifth.

So it's not just a case of turning up, chatting a bit, asking a few questions and going home again.

The presenter (and crew) need to do this to a high level of quality (and make it look easy!) every day for 46 days before turning the studio over to other shows.

So yes, this is a tough job for someone who's not used to this schedule and this level of pressure in presenting one of the highest rated shows on TV.

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    Which of those things are different from other game shows? I suspect most of them film a week of shows in 1 day. The guest hosts don't have to do promotional activity. And the rest of it (hair and makeup) is normal for any TV presenter. – Barmar May 18 at 13:47
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    At the end, "this schedule" could be expanded to "a typical 8-hour white-collar job". Which sort of makes sense. Anyone with a high-enough profile to host Jeopardy probably only needs to work a few hours a day, or not at all. – Owen Reynolds May 18 at 16:07
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    @BruceWayne "We all had clothes with us as the instructions said to bring three different outfits." better.net/arts-events/movies-tv/… – Acccumulation May 18 at 18:37
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    It's a busy schedule, but I don't think I'd classify what is essentially an 8-hour workday as "punishing", particularly when it's done only twice a week. – Nuclear Hoagie May 18 at 21:07
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    "8 hour work day" doesn't sound that bad. "8 hour work day of mostly meetings, 4 hours of which are high-intensity best behaviour presenting"... well, sounds a bit different. – Raphael Schmitz May 19 at 16:26
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Injecting personality, a few seconds at a time

Jeopardy is a rather fast-paced game, usually squeezing about 60 questions plus some banter into a 23-minute program. The host has to walk a fine line between adding color commentary and keeping the game moving. If the host simply reads questions and answers robotically, they won't project any kind of personality that makes a host likeable. On the other hand, if they say too much, they'll bog the game down with unnecessary conversation, hurting the pace of the show.

A host needs to say enough to showcase their personality and hosting style, but cannot say so much that they take focus away from the players and the game itself (or even reveal game-pertinent information!). The rapid-fire nature of the game makes the format very different from a traditional interview, where there is less time pressure, and less variation in subject matter. Additionally, aside from the contestant interviews, there is little back-and-forth between the host and contestants, meaning that any quips from the host must stand on their own. Most of the game is not conducted in an interview format, so interview skills won't necessarily be useful - rather than trying to hold an interesting conversation, a Jeopardy host for the most part provides one-sided commentary.

Add in the wildly varying subject matter, as well as the quickfire nature of the game, and the host has the difficult task of conveying their personality in very short bursts while staying on-topic in a non-conversational format. A good host will keep the game moving and project a knowledgeable and personable air, but a great host will make it look effortless.

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    Don't forget, making sure those short bursts that are on topic don't accidentally reveal information about upcoming questions – Kevin May 18 at 15:35
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    Now that old episodes are available on Netflix, it is interesting to see how awkward even Alex was at the beginning. These guest hosts have to (try to) embody everything Alex himself learned over decades of hosting. – Quasi_Stomach May 18 at 18:11
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    ... all while not coming off as a superior know-it-all, while still sounding conversant enough in the topics to determine whether an answer is correct. – minnmass May 18 at 21:41
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    We in the fan-run convention "business" have similar problems filling the role of Master of Ceremony (MC). Gotta find one that makes it about the contestants, not themselves. And gotta keep the pace moving correctly. And gotta provide relevant filler when needed. Not every person/actor/celebrity is capable of doing that. Everything you said is 100% on point. – ikegami May 19 at 20:54
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They're not judging the players' answers, there are judges for that. Both Cooper and Whitaker are veteran journalists, they have plenty of experience interviewing people, so chatting with the contestants should be easy for them.

The other answers address your assumption that the host isn't judging answers, but IMHO there's a big flaw in the logic that having "plenty of experience" necessarily means the job "should be easy".

It's certainly true that having experience can make some parts of a job easier, as compared to a person without that experience. But it's definitely not true that just because a person has experience, the job becomes easy.

Indeed, one sign of a true professional is that they put their full effort into the task at hand. Their experience may help guide that effort, and gives them tools to apply that effort more efficiently than would be possible with less experience, but it's still work. It requires mental focus and/or physical labor to do a good job, and especially to do a job worthy of the compensation and expectations given to a person with a lot of experience.

Having a lot of experience doesn't mean being able to coast professionally. It usually means increased competence, but hard jobs can, and usually do, remain hard.

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  • Also having experience doing professional interviews is very different than being able to do engaging ad lib crowd work – Kevin May 19 at 22:22
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    +1 for your first sentence alone. All the experience in the work won't make a difficult job easier, it just means you have a better grasp of what it will entail and will waste less time trying to figure out how to go about it. – Shadur May 20 at 11:05
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I tried out for Jeopardy while stationed in Iceland in 1993. The USO brought Alex Trebek to participate in this, and he answered a number of questions for us.

I don't know if he did this up until the very end, but he also knew the correct questions to all of the answers when he did the show. I don't know if he had to cram or if he was simply a walking encyclopedia.

From what I could tell he was a class act all around.

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    I know that Alex did lots of work, because he was the star of the show, an executive producer, and very active in the production. My question is about guest hosting. – Barmar May 20 at 22:56

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