The Hidden Opportunity of Dr. Oz Hosting ‘Jeopardy!’
Dr. Mehmet Oz has been routinely criticized for promoting false medical products. He was also close friends with the late trivia master Alex Trebek.
Though I’ve oft claimed to be an apt trivia connoisseur, I don’t know if I’ll ever quite be cut out for the rigors of Jeopardy!’s famed competition. The long-running game show was never quite a staple in my household growing up. When the time rolls around every evening, my family has tended to opt for the puzzle-based Wheel of Fortune or the ribald Family Feud over the cool, cerebral nature of Jeopardy! Probably just as well. I have near always been termed, fairly or not, the cerebral one in my family. My parents have long said that should any among us have the stamina to topple Jeopardy!, it would be me.
I remain dubious.
All the same, this week Jeopardy!’s intellectualism has been undermined by the one thing that many fans of the show long thought impossible: a figurehead antithetical to truth.
After long-time host Alex Trebek passed away last November from a multiyear battle with pancreatic cancer, the producers of Jeopardy! have been seeking a new way forward. After airing the last of Trebek’s taped episodes to close 2020 and begin 2021, the show has now pivoted to using guest hosts for approximately two weeks at a time. Thus far, former Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings, media personality Katie Couric, and the show’s executive producer Mike Richards have all stood in at the podium, with moderate to laudatory success.
Oh yeah, then there’s Dr. Oz.
If you don’t know Dr. Mehmet Oz, a quick Wikipedia rundown will tell you most of what you need to familiarize yourself. The son of Turkish immigrants, Oz received his undergraduate degree from Harvard in 1982 and his MD and MBA from the University of Pennsylvania in 1986. In the early 2000s he began to make guest appearances on Oprah Winfrey’s TV program, and in 2009 Oprah offered to produce a daytime talk show for Oz through her Harpo Productions studio.
For 12 years Oz’s show has aired nationwide, and over that lengthy period of time he’s dispensed a wide array of medical advice, a healthy portion of which has been denounced by the medical community as pseudoscience or otherwise unfounded. From the promotion of green coffee extract as a weight-loss cure-all to the supposition that some combination of red onion and sea bass can decrease the likelihood of contracting ovarian cancer by 75 percent, Dr. Oz’s “miraculous” medicines have constantly been refuted as junk science. A professor at Columbia University, several physicians have called for the university to severe ties with him over these spurious claims.
And all of that was before he was sucked into the orbit of Planet Trump.
Now, impassioned fans of Jeopardy!’s rigorous factual fun are incensed that Oz has been invited to take his own turn behind the podium in the place where Trebek once stood. They cannot reconcile the notion that this lying reality TV personality would be given any place of power or import.
Yet, I have to wonder, are they missing an opportunity here?
I’m no more a fan of Dr. Oz’s brand of pre-packaged, dubious salvation than I am of any modern charlatan’s, but like it or not he does have a fan base. According to Deadline, The Dr. Oz Show reached some 22 million Americans at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. And as this one viewer attested, Dr. Oz is the primary source of medical information for the many in the United States that are suspicious of a medical elite they see as stodgy and out of touch.
So, is it not then a boon to bring such people into the fold of Jeopardy!’s fact-based environment? There’s been such fire and furor about how Dr. Oz will corrupt Jeopardy! that no one has bothered to ask the question in reverse; what if Jeopardy! “corrupts” Dr. Oz? Or, more aptly, what if Jeopardy! brings his fanbase even a modicum of truth?
To be sure, all 22 million of those faithful Ozites will not migrate to Jeopardy! just because their chosen prophet is making an appearance there for 14 days. And to be abundantly clear, it is not a good look to reward Dr. Oz’s continued medical mis-practice with such prominent television spots. But, the burden of uncoupling polite society from Oz should hardly fall to Jeopardy! alone. His own talk show is still being produced by the networks, after all. Oprah, for all of her continued popularity even in her semi-retirement, has never fully disassociated herself with the controversial figure she directly helped create.
Then there is the matter of Trebek’s personal friendship with Oz, a fact that’s been touted by Oz himself a number of times. When Trebek was first diagnosed with cancer in 2018, it was Oz that Access Hollywood went to for a medical opinion. He similarly opined a year later on Fox & Friends. Oz repeatedly lauded Trebek as a “fighter” and commended him for doing much better at combating his disease than even the doctor himself would have been able to manage.
To be sure, perhaps as a side effect of his affable Canadian-ness, Trebek was friends with a litany of people, from Debbie Reynolds to Aaron Rodgers. That he might’ve been friends with the embattled doctor hardly seems surprising. Should that then equate with an automatic bid on Oz’s behalf to take up Trebek’s mantle, even if only temporarily? No, probably not. But it lends greater textured reasoning to the producers’ decision to do so at all.
Like it or not (and many fans really, really don’t like it) Oz will be on air for the foreseeable future. The contract for his own show has been extended through 2023. Filling Trebek’s shoes was always going to be next to impossible for any one person, and a controversial figure like Oz certainly makes the job no more doable. Still, as one of the few remaining purely fact-oriented game shows left on air, disciples of the questions and corresponding answers shouldn’t despair so heavily. What is a “host” if not something of a toothless figurehead? Dr. Oz isn’t the one writing the questions, after all. By and by, some newcomers to the game may just learn something as a result of Oz being there, which is more than can be said for just about any other time he’s reared his head within the confines of the boob tube.