The Terrible Reign of Dr. Oz

Jeopardy! contestants go to war with a guest host

Dr. Oz has been hosting Jeopardy!, and people have strong feelings. After the sad death of Alex Trebek, former contestants have been wandering in the knowledge wilderness. Dr. Oz as host was the ultimate insult. More than 600 of them signed a letter of protest to the show’s producers. They said:

“Dr. Oz stands in opposition to everything that Jeopardy! stands for. Jeopardy! is a show that values facts and knowledge. Throughout his nearly two decades on television he has used his authority as a doctor to push harmful ideas onto the American public, in stark contrast with his oath to first do no harm. These ideas include promoting supplements that do nothing, legitimizing gay conversion therapy (which is banned in California, as well as 19 other states), dangerous “cures” for autism, and, most recently, the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19.”

Dr. Oz, evil incarnate, on Jeopardy!

Executive producer Mike Richards, who himself took a couple of weeks at the Jeopardy! guest-hosting podium, responded by saying, basically, “we value your opinion. Now, here’s Dr. Oz.”

But the protests have continued. In a column last week in Variety, former Jeopardy! contestant Daniel D’Addario said that Dr. Oz’s reign has given Jeopardy! a “black eye.” The New York Post, which has gotten a lot of mileage over the Dr. Oz/Jeopardy! controversy, ran this headline: “‘Jeopardy!’ in danger with ‘embarrassing’ Dr. Oz as host, say contestants.” They quoted several, including Kathy Krebs, who claimed that her inability to make it to the Final Jeopardy! round in 2014 was no longer the most embarrassing thing in the history of the show.

So why, specifically, are former Jeopardy! contestants so up in arms about Dr. Oz? D’Addario wrote:

“Oz, among the most-well-known and -loved faces in the daytime firmament with his eponymous show, is a broadcaster in the classic sense—a figure with few limits on his appeal. He got to this place by trading on his legitimate real-world bona fides—as a Harvard and Penn-educated cardiothoracic surgeon—to spread a broadly appealing gospel that mixes together that which is true with that which is pleasant or attention-getting to believe.’

“Notable instances mentioned in past coverage of Oz include his claiming, on his show, that arsenic is present in apple juice and that green coffee beans are an effective weight-loss supplement. Elsewhere, he promoted hydroxychloroquine, the baseless and ineffective COVID-19 treatment. He has also provided a megaphone to vaccine denialists and to anti-gay conversion therapy, as well as, during the run-up to the 2016 election, candidate Donald Trump, who used Oz’s show as the venue to put forward his medical records, which Oz scanned and approved.”

For some Jeopardy! contestants, particularly the extremely online ones, Dr. Oz is like some sort of sacred betrayal. As a former Jeopardy! player, I can understand. Being on Jeopardy! was a life pinnacle, the only public chance to validate my intelligence and my lifelong hobby of accumulating facts. And Dr. Oz has voiced some questionable facts in his lifetime.

But really, this is about politics, not facts. Jeopardy! contestants lean toward the politically woke. To them, a guest host who has voiced support for gay conversion therapy and sold questionable vitamin supplements to vulnerable people is equivalent to giving the lectern to Dr. Mengele, or at least Alex Jones.

Last April, Dr. Oz appeared on Sean Hannity’s show and advocated for reopening schools, albeit using weird statistics. This appalled a lot of people, even though he was mostly correct. Schools should be open. CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who will also be guest-hosting Jeopardy!, wrote in August that he wouldn’t be sending his kids back to school, even though it’s perfectly safe. Dr. Gupta may not be selling questionable vitamins or giving a platform to Donald Trump, but he’s definitely been a major spreader of his own brand of COVID disinformation. I somehow doubt Jeopardy! contestants will be protesting his two-week stint.

Elmo like that Sanjay Gupta will be hosting Jeopardy!

Nor should they, nor should anyone have cared about Ken Jennings’s problematic tweets, or Katie Couric’s criticisms of Trump. Jeopardy! aims to appeal to as wide a variety of viewers as possible. It’s an amazing phenomenon, but it’s a game show, not a sacred church of liberal knowledge. It doesn’t matter who hosts. Dr. Oz didn’t spout any bad facts while in the Jeopardy! spotlight, though he did raise money for his questionable charity. Some contestants won money, some of them withered in the spotlight, others had rough luck to run up against opponents and questions that ruined them. That’s Jeopardy!

Dr. Oz’s final episode airs tomorrow. I look forward to it being over, as he’s awkward to watch. Also, the self-righteous commentary will finally die down. Next week, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers takes the stage. Everyone loves Aaron Rodgers. No one will protest. Except for maybe Jake from State Farm.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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