Following the passing of long-time host Alex Trebek, Jeopardy! producers began a far-reaching search for a new host. One of the public’s most popular choices to become the new host was Reading Rainbow legend LeVar Burton. Who else besides a man who taught generations of children to love reading could take over the question and answer trivia show?
The internet campaign was loud and intense, with Burton finally receiving a week-long guest host stint. After some shady controversy we’ll get to later, record-breaking winner Ken Jennings and The Big Bang Theory star Mayim Bialik became the show’s hosts and Burton had to deal with being rejected in front of the world.
“Experiencing a very public defeat, humiliation, if you will, was sobering. And what I learned from the experience, really, is that it reinforced my belief that everything happens for a reason, even if you cannot discern the reason in the moment,” Burton told Newsy’s In the Loop. “In the fullness of time, everything will be revealed. And like I said, it was I think in that first week of feeling really sort of not just disappointed, but wrecked. I didn’t expect that I would not be their choice for host. And the doors have been opened. Windows have been opened. The phone hasn’t stopped ringing, and I never would have experienced those things that I’m experiencing, like hosting the Scripps Spelling Bee, had I gotten that job. So I think it was a big lesson for me and just being willing to sit in the discomfort long enough to find out what was really supposed to happen for me around this game show thing.”
So about that controversy: before Jennings and Bialik stepped in, Jeopardy! executive producer Mike Richards was named the new host. As you would expect, that immediately raised some red flags with fans. No matter who you were pulling for to get the job, there was definitely something shady about the person in charge of the search ending up with the gig. Shortly after he was officially named the new host, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, racist jokes Richards told on a past podcast appearance resurfaced and he ended up resigning as host, then was fired from the series. So basically no one, including Burton, ever had a honest shot of taking over the famous podium.
“The truth is it was my favorite game show. It really was. I mean, I watched that show since I was in the third grade and Art Fleming was the host,” Burton said. “And I honestly thought that I was well-suited for it. As it turns out, it really wasn’t a competition, after all, the fix was in.”
As tough as it is to have the whole world watching and commenting on your losses, the Roots star maintains that he was able to learn from the experience.
“I believe I’m still mining some of the takeaways from that experience,” he said. “First and foremost, I’m a firm believer in betting on myself, and I would encourage anyone and everyone out there to to believe. Similarly in themselves. I’m always going to bet on me.”
That belief in himself has been rewarded with Burton set to host the Scripps National Spelling Bee, airing June 2 at 8/7c on Bounce and ION. He is working on a new Trivial Pursuit game show and will return to one of his most famous roles as Geordi La Forge when the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation reunites in Season 3 of Star Trek: Picard.
The moral of this story is LeVar Burton was a legend before Jeopardy! became a possibility and he’ll continue to be a legend without it.