Entertainment

'Jeopardy' Alums Baffled By News That Dr. Oz Will Host

"Having Dr. Oz as a host damages the show's credibility as a neutral purveyor of facts," one contestant said.
February 3, 2021, 8:00pm
Dr Mehmet Oz
Image via YouTube

A couple of years ago, the American Medical Association's Journal of Ethics published an article called "The Case of Dr. Oz: Ethics, Evidence, and Does Professional Self-Regulation Work?" It was an elegantly worded excoriation of your dumbest cousin's favorite doctor, and it also questioned why Mehmet Oz hadn't been effectively sanctioned by the medical establishment, despite the fact that he'd already spent a decade-plus talking absolute shit on his eponymous TV show.  

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"He has told mothers that there were dangerous levels of arsenic in their child’s apple juice (there weren’t), and suggested that green coffee is a 'miracle' cure for obesity," the authors wrote. "Dr. Oz also featured two guests on his show who claimed that genetically modified foods were cancer causing (despite repeated safety reports that found no adverse effects)." 

Oz's suspect relationship with Real Science is nothing new, which is why it was both surprising and disappointing to learn that Oz has been selected to guest host an episode of Jeopardy. Earlier this week, Mike Richards, Jeopardy's executive producer, announced that Oz, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, TODAY host Savannah Guthrie, and CNN medical correspondent and neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta will all spend 26-ish minutes behind the host's lectern later this year.

"We look forward to each guest host bringing their unique abilities to the show and to our contestants winning a lot of money that we can match for charity,” Richards said in a statement. 

Unfortunately, some of Oz's "unique abilities" include hosting questionable guests on his show, and giving them a nationally syndicated platform to share their bonkers theories—like so-called miracle healers, mediums, psychics, and whatever Joseph Mercola is. (In addition to being a longtime anti-vaxxer and purveyor of pseudoscience, Mercola had to settle a $5.3 million lawsuit with the FTC for selling tanning beds that he claimed would "slash your risk of cancer.”

Jeopardy's decision to put Oz's name on its guest list hasn't been well-received by longtime J! fans, and those who have appeared on the show aren't particularly psyched about it either. "Alex [Trebek] always said that he was the host and not the star, because the contestants, the clues, and the knowledge were the focus," former contestant Miriam Manber told VICE. "To have someone that has been impeached by his own scientific and medical colleagues as having only a tenuous connection to provable facts and science isn't a great look." 

Manber isn't wrong: a group of physicians tried to have Oz ousted from the faculty of Columbia University's College of Physicians, claiming that he had "repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine." He was called to testify during a Senate hearing about weight-loss scams, and Sen. Claire McKaskill (D-Mo.) politely dunked on him for "saying this stuff [on your show] when you know it’s not true." And a British Medical Journal analysis of 40 episodes of The Dr. Oz Show determined that there was zero evidence to support 39 percent of the medical claims and recommendations that were being made. "This is despite us being quite liberal in the type and amount of evidence we required," the authors wrote. 

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"I'm horrified that Jeopardy producers are providing Dr. Oz with an opportunity to show off and reinforce his credibility as an 'expert,'" former contestant Tova Perlmutter said. "Given his track record of shilling for unproven and even dangerous practices, having Dr. Oz as a host damages the show's credibility as a neutral purveyor of facts." 

Those concerns were repeated in a pair of Facebook groups for Jeopardy alums. (I also appeared on two episodes of the show.) "If I were a contestant and found out that my guest host would be Dr. Oz, I'd be a little embarrassed," one former competitor wrote. "I mean, you've been waiting your whole life to be on the show, and you find out the host is...him? I'd feel a little cheated." 

Others worried that Oz's appearance could be especially harmful to both the autistic and LGBTQ communities, because he has made space on his couch for guests who promote ableist autism "cures," those who repeat already-debunked conspiracy theories about the "cause" of autism, and proponents of dangerous and harmful reparative (or conversion) therapies. 

"Former contestants are up in arms about this, because as a group we care about the dangerous tendencies towards anti-intellectualism in U.S. society, and we value the show for having been an exception to these trends," Perlmutter continued. "One game show's devolution does not constitute the road to perdition, of course. But Jeopardy has been the standard bearer for American game shows as a persistent example of how intelligence, curiosity and fact-based research can entertain millions of people. For its producers to back away from that philosophy is really troubling."

VICE has reached out to Jeopardy for comment, but as of this writing, they have not yet responded.