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Katie Couric says the show holds a special place in her heart because she used to watch it with her late husband Jay Monahan, who died of cancer at 42

By Gillian Telling
March 11, 2021 03:00 PM
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Katie Couric has been loving her time as Jeopardy!'s first-ever female guest host.

"It was so much fun," she tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "First of all, the team behind the scenes is amazing. I think they're the unsung heroes of the whole operation. They work so hard, they are so smart and they were incredibly welcoming. I was a nervous wreck, honestly, before I came to the studio, but they put me at ease right away."

Despite having first-time game show host jitters, Couric admits that this was something she'd always wanted to do. And she says Jeopardy! in particular has long held a special place in her heart.

katie couric
Credit: Carol Kaelson/Quadra Productions

"I love watching the show, and used to watch it all the time with my late husband [Jay Monahan] who was really good at it," she says. "I watch it now with my current husband [John Molner], but I think it has a special place in my heart because Jay loved it so much. I think he would've been a really good contestant."

For more from Katie Couric, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

Couric and Monahan, a lawyer and legal analyst for NBC News, were parents to daughters Elinor, who was born in 1991, and Caroline, born in 1996.

After Monahan died of colon cancer in 1998 at age 42, Couric, 64, a Stand Up 2 Cancer founder, has been working tirelessly to get the word out about colon cancer screening. (During her two-week tenure at Jeopardy!, the show will match the winner's earnings and donate them to Stand Up 2 Cancer, focused specifically on pancreatic cancer research in honor of late host Alex Trebek.)

Katie Couric Jeopardy
Katie Couric
| Credit: Jeopardy/Sony PR

Couric says she's especially concerned about the toll that cancer might take on those that weren't able to do their annual screenings during the pandemic.

"I think as COVID begins to lift, people really need to talk to their doctors about screening," she says. "I think that, unfortunately, because so many people were not screened over the past year or so, for obvious reasons, that there will be, unfortunately, many more cancer [cases] and the mortality rate is likely to increase."

"It's just absolutely imperative that people talk to their doctors," she continues. "There are at-home screening tests for colorectal cancer, for example. There are important screening tests for other cancers, whether we're talking about breast cancer or prostate cancer. They just really need to be on top of that. Early detection is so critically important. If you're 45 or over, you should be getting your first colon cancer screening."

Couric, who also lost her sister Emily to pancreatic cancer on 2002 — the same cancer that took the life of Trebek in Nov. 2020 — says she couldn't have been happier to help raise money and awareness to the cause while hosting Jeopardy!

"It was kismet in terms of my doing something that was on my bucket list, and being able to do good for cancer research," she says. "It was a real twofer."