The defining moment that made CNN’s Sanjay Gupta a better ‘Jeopardy!’ host

Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the set of “Jeopardy!”
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, will host “Jeopardy!” from June 28 through July 9. | Screenshot from “Jeopardy!” YouTube channel

When Dr. Sanjay Gupta showed up on the ‘Jeopardy!’ set to practice hosting, he felt like he couldn’t get anything right

When Dr. Sanjay Gupta showed up on the “‘Jeopardy!” set to practice hosting, he felt like he couldn’t get anything right.

His pacing was off, he struggled to keep conversation afloat and he sometimes forgot where he was supposed to stand during certain moments of the game.

As Gupta struggled to find his rhythm, “Jeopardy!” executive producer Mike Richards approached him.

“It was like a masterful coach coming to talk to his errant pitcher at the mound,” Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, recently wrote for CNN. “I thought he might bench me, but instead he told me something I never forgot: ‘For the contestants who come to play, this is one of the biggest days in their lives, and when you look at someone at the end of the show and tell them they are a ‘Jeopardy!’ champion, it is like placing a gold medal around their neck.”

That moment, Gupta wrote, “changed everything.”

From then on, he was determined to focus on the contestants — the heart of the game — and not let them down. So later that night — the night before actual filming would begin — he transformed his hotel room into a makeshift “Jeopardy!” set. The bathroom became the backstage area, the bed served as the hosting lectern, the TV was the gameboard and the windows represented the audience.

The practice paid off. The next day, Gupta said things began to feel more natural. And by the time he got to crown his first “Jeopardy!” champion, he was able to fully enjoy the reaction.

“With hand over chest, the person started to shake, their mouth started to quiver and then break into a look of pure joy. The power of the moment was felt throughout the entire set,” Gupta wrote in his essay for CNN.

“It made me realize that just because a show is full of facts and knowledge doesn’t mean it has been stripped of intensity and humanity. ‘Jeopardy!’ is all those things.”

Now, Gupta’s time behind the hosting lectern is debuting on national TV. The neurosurgeon and journalist, who is hosting from June 28 to July 9, is the 11th guest host to fill in since Alex Trebek’s death in November 2020.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s history with ‘Jeopardy!’

For Gupta, who grew up watching “Jeopardy!” with his parents and has since continued the tradition with his own three teenage daughters, hosting the beloved quiz show was a surreal opportunity he didn’t take lightly.

“I was super nervous,” he recently told “Jeopardy!” producers. “I had never done anything quite like this. But I think what made me most nervous is that I had tremendous respect for the show. I think when you have tremendous respect for something, you want to just treat it with that respect and just get everything right. That’s good, but it can also make you a bit nervous.”

Gupta has watched “Jeopardy!” since he was a teenager. His parents, both engineers who immigrated to the U.S. from India, excelled in categories related to math, science and world history. Gupta, meanwhile, said he often fared better on pop culture and sports.

“‘Jeopardy!’ was the great equalizer in our family,” Gupta wrote for CNN. “We all had our strengths and our weaknesses. Any of us could emerge a champion. Decades later, I can still recall the look of pride my dad had when he came up with the correct response. I later realized he was even more proud when his young son did the same.”

Now, Gupta’s daughters, who show great pride when they outsmart their dad on a “Jeopardy!” clue, have just as much pride in their dad taking on the role of host, Gupta told “Jeopardy!” producers.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta as ‘Jeopardy!’ host

Gupta said the precision required in being a neurosurgeon helped prepare him for hosting “Jeopardy!” But that doesn’t mean his hosting stint went without a glitch — during one game, he had to reread every single clue in a category.

“In my defense, it was a category full of 10-letter words in a foreign language,” he wrote in his CNN essay.

During Gupta’s time as host, “Jeopardy!” is matching the winnings of the contestants and donating to Gupta’s charity of choice: Odyssey Atlanta. In an interview with “Jeopardy!” producers, Gupta was visibly emotional as he talked about the organization’s mission to provide educational opportunities for students in underserved communities.

Following Gupta’s time as host, George Stephanopoulos, Robin Roberts, LeVar Burton, David Faber and Joe Buck will all have turns behind the lectern, the Deseret News reported. Gupta said hosting the show was “the honor of a lifetime.”

“Guest hosting @Jeopardy! made me respect the amazing Alex Trebek even more,” he wrote on Twitter Sunday. “His brilliance was making it all look so effortless. The show has a stride and cadence unlike anything I have experienced before, and truth is: I loved it!”