'Jeopardy!' Champ Amy Schneider Hopes to Impact Lives by 'Being Herself'

by Steve Duffy

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday January 23, 2022
Originally published on January 20, 2022

When Amy Schneider joined "Jeopardy!" as a contestant, she only wanted to win four games. It turns out, the Oakland-based computer programmer has won a consecutive 36 games. In the process she has become one of the show's most celebrated champions and one of America's best-known trans women.

Her expert playing and instant recall has made her unbeatable, often wiping out her competitors by double-digit margins. Add to that her cool manner and it is understandable why she is now the third longest-running champion with more than $1,100,000 in winnings.

Her instant-celebrity status led to her being nominated for a GLAAD Media Award this week, which she celebrated on Twitter. "Hi all! So, yesterday's and today's game threads will get up at some point, but as you might imagine my life is pretty crazy right now!" she wrote. "But I did want to take a moment to acknowledge how honored and humbled I am to have been recognized in this year's @glaad Media Awards."

And she's proud to help shape the viewing audience's perception of what a trans woman is. As she told Newsweek last November, "I know that in my life, [it's great] to see trans women out there, not being the sort of freaks or prostitutes, or other things that until only a few years ago was all you ever saw them as."

"So as that changed, as I've been able to see them in other contexts—as the human beings that they are—that's been really important for me. And so I'm just really glad to be able to do that same thing for other people."

EDGE spoke to Schneider about her life, fame, "Jeopardy!" and the story behind that pearl necklace.

EDGE: Who is Amy?

Amy Schneider: I am a trans woman, who lives in California. I am a lifelong "Jeopardy!" fan. I'm a computer programmer by trade and I've been doing that for about 20 years. I live with my girlfriend and cat.

EDGE: How are you handling your newfound fame?

Amy Schneider: It is a mixed blessing, but it's still a blessing. It's definitely a weird feeling to know that everyone knows whatever is going on in my life, especially because of all the news stories that have been airing for the past couple of months. I did have some time to mentally prepare for it because the episodes were all taped about two months ago. It still takes some time to get used to it all.

EDGE: Prior to getting on the show, what was your relationship with "Jeopardy!"?

Amy Schneider: I've been watching it my whole life. I can't remember a time when I wasn't. My parents never missed a show. I am pretty sure I started watching when I was either 5 or 6 years old. My dad tried out a couple of times and got pretty close to getting on the show once.

EDGE: You are breaking records. Did you have any goals for yourself before you competed?

Amy Schneider: I mentioned this on the show. My brother-in-law was on the show seven or eight years ago and he won three games, so my goal was to win four.

EDGE: Like champions James Holzhauer and Matt Amodio, do you have a strategy?

Amy Schneider: I don't have much of one. If I see a category that I think I won't be good at, I try to get it off the board first. This way if a Daily Double comes up then there's not that much money at stake. Otherwise, I try to play it straightforward. I kind of push back a little bit on some of the strategies that have come along over the past few years. The one thing that James Holzhauer really deserves credit for is the revolution in how people wager. I am not as aggressive as he was. I am definitely more conservative with my wagering.

EDGE: Since multiple episodes are filmed in one day, how do you stay focused?

Amy Schneider: It's difficult. My whole mental game is about keeping myself in the moment. Don't think about anything else except for playing. I keep my phone off at the beginning of the day which is a rare experience these days. Imagine going all day without your phone — it's freeing. The other thing that helps in terms of dealing with the mental fatigue is that the game moves so fast. I think it's something like 12 seconds per question and answer, so there's just no time to think about anything except the next question.

EDGE: It takes me forever to figure out what I am wearing for the day. How do you pick several outfits?

Amy Schneider: It was especially challenging for me because in my daily life I pretty much exclusively wear dresses with short sleeves because I run hot. Since they need a place to hang the mic pack, I couldn't wear them. A week before filming I had to go buy all new clothes which wasn't a bad thing.

EDGE: Can you tell us the story behind the pearl necklace?

Amy Schneider: Last year on my birthday, my girlfriend bought me the pearl necklace and earrings, because she said that she had been told as a child that every lady needs a string of pearls. I kind of wore them arbitrarily at first, but then I realized that it was just nice having that reminder of her since she couldn't be down there for the taping with me. They also served as a reminder that this game will end but I will always have her to go home to.

EDGE: What is something you have learned about yourself while on the show?

Amy Schneider: The one thing that I learned is how to be okay with how I look. That was something I was really worried about going on the show. After I transitioned, I took some time off from auditioning for the show, just because I didn't know if I was ready to be seen on TV. For me, this was like being thrown into the deep end and being forced to deal with that. Since I forced myself to do it, I've seen how positively everybody's responded to seeing me on TV. After seeing myself with professional hair and makeup every day, which is a great experience by the way, [it's] the first time I have been really comfortable with how I look and how I present myself. I am not stressed out about it anymore.

EDGE: As part of the LGBT community, you have been given this amazing platform that you probably didn't have prior to the show. How do you envision yourself using it?

Amy Schneider: That's a good question and I'm sort of still figuring it out. I don't want to use my social media because then it can just become a place where a bunch of people will be arguing, and it won't be a vessel used for good. I don't want to be too political either, but at the same time, my life is somewhat political because I am a trans woman. Like any trans person, I have recognized and read the negative comments that I've received. I've gotten lots of transphobic stuff. The greatest thing that I can do is just be myself and show everyone that I am incredibly normal and hopefully being myself will make a great impact on the lives of the viewers whether they are in the LGBTQ community or not.