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Meet the GWU Professor Who May Be the Next Host of Jeopardy

Laura Coates says it was a "complete shock" to learn Alex Trebek thinks she could take his job.
Photograph courtesy SiriusXM.

The last place SiriusXM host and CNN analyst Laura Coates thought she’d hear her name was TMZ. Yet on Monday, that’s exactly where it wound up when Jeopardy host Alex Trebek tossed her name out as a possible replacement if he retires from his 36-year-long gig as host in 2020. Coates, an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s law school (and a loyal fan of the game show) tells Washingtonian that she was sitting with her husband and two children when she first heard the news.

“It was a complete shock,” Coates says gleefully.

I was able to catch up with Coates a few minutes after she wrapped her SiriusXM program The Laura Coates Show as she was preparing to board the Acela to New York.

How did you feel when you first heard the news?

As I’m trying to get my kids to go to sleep, I look up [at the television] and am completely floored. I am, of course, a huge, huge Jeopardy fan. I began to think, “I must have cameras watching me in my house. He must have heard me shouting all the right–and sometimes wrong–answers at the television for all these years.” It’s absolutely unreal.

If they offered you the gig, would you accept? Would it be something you’d fit into your schedule along with your cable hits?

It’s so difficult for me to see Jeopardy without Alex Trebek. For me, Jeopardy goes one of two ways: Trebek with the mustache or Trebek without. Period. I don’t even enter the equation at all. That being said, the opportunity would be an absolute dream. I’m a huge fan of his and would jump at the offer. I’m surprised he even knew who I was. I still don’t know how I got onto his radar. It would be a big change from the kind of work I do at CNN, which I equally appreciate. I’m open to anything happening.

What would it mean to you to be one of the only black female game show leads? 

Before I heard the response or reaction, it hadn’t occurred to me that it’d be a change or a first. I just see myself as a fan. But it is a surprising first. It’s one of which, especially when it comes to that genre of television, you would imagine there wouldn’t be a need for one type of person to host. Why not have a community and universe of people see themselves in that spot as well? My daughter and son would be thrilled to see someone who looks like them. They watch the program along with me. When he said my name, they said: “Oh my god Mommy, Alex Checkbeck (how the children pronounce his name) thinks you’re really smart.” Well, thanks, kids. It would be so rewarding for me if my own and children across the board could have their identity reflected in myself. I’m just tickled.

Have you adopted any Jeopardy-style practices into your daily life?

I mean, who hasn’t practiced the gleeful contestants’ intro? I do it all the time at home. In fact, I’ve been incorporating it into my SiriusXM show. I make callers form their statements into questions. I even include the Jeopardy segment where I make all my guests introduce themselves with a fun fact. We’re all having fun with one another. Even if nothing comes of it, it’s fun to know that I can play host. Though, one friend of mine did ask who would play me on SNL if I got the job. That remains to be seen.

How’s the reaction been so far?

Everyone’s been so supportive–I suppose it runs the gamut of supportive and shocked. The shocked contingent includes those who can only picture me as a little girl with pigtails and afro puffs. My sisters joked with me, “all we can see is this little girl with braces.” Overwhelmingly, the internet has been so nice. And it’s so funny, he didn’t actually name me as his replacement. Nothing is official. But my friends have urged me to claim it into the universe. I’m pretty certain that reality is going to pop my fun bubble soon. But if not, I’m going to keep in this dreamland for a little bit longer.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Brittany Shepherd joined Washingtonian as a staff writer in June 2018. She previously covered the White House for Independent Journal Review. On her off time, she obsesses over pop culture and the best place to find authentic New York pizza in the district. She currently lives in Navy Yard.