Amy Schneider is a lot like the rest of us. When she gets bored, she scours Wikipedia for interesting facts and goes down a rabbit hole of links on the internet.
Then again, maybe she’s not like the rest of us: She’s won more than $1.1 million on “Jeopardy!” – the most by any woman in the show’s history, and the fourth overall in regular-season play – over the course of 32 games (and counting).
Of course, the 42-year-old engineering manager from Oakland, California, is not only learning facts on Wikipedia. Her media diet includes The New York Times, sports and culture website Defector and many history books. Not that she’s exactly studying for the show.
“Jeopardy! covers such a wide range of things that I’m not sure it’s something you really can study for,” she says in a phone interview. “You just have to be living your life in such a way that you keep learning.”
She does have one trick up her sleeve: J! Archive, a fan-created website that has every question and answer on “Jeopardy!” since the current syndicated version premiered in 1984. In her downtime, she looks for things she doesn’t know – though it’s hard to believe such facts exist.
Schneider thanked her mom on the January 11 episode, crediting her for instilling the idea of not just learning something, but digging into details behind it. Like studying the etymology of a word instead of just learning how to spell it for a spelling bee. It also helped that growing up, “Jeopardy!” “was just something that was on every day.”
It took her 10 years of trying to make it onto the show. Now, she watches every night with her girlfriend Genevieve (sometimes her cat Meep joins).
Unlike recent high-earner champions James Holzhauer and Matt Amodio, Schneider says she doesn’t have that much of a strategy. (Schneider tied Holzhauer’s 32-game winning streak on the Jan. 13 episode, the third-longest ever.)
“To an extent, I think I’m pushing back a little against some of (Holzhauer and Amodio’s) strategies.” Holzhauer, especially, betted aggressively and began with the high-value clues at the bottom of the “Jeopardy!” board; Amodio sometimes copied this method.
If she sees a category she feels less confident in, she zooms to that one first; if any Daily Doubles came up, not as much money to lose. Otherwise she plays the game straightforwardly: Sticking to one category, top to bottom.
But her predecessors have emboldened her to bet big when it counts. “I’ve definitely tried to push myself to be a bit more aggressive with what I wager on the Daily Doubles. Just because you should have faith in yourself that you’re probably going to know the answer or you wouldn’t be on ‘Jeopardy!’ in the first place.”
Her tenure on the show only increased that faith.
“I decided going in that I was just going to focus on being myself,” she says, and be OK with the outcome.
As a transgender woman – only the second in the show’s history – she’s had discomfort over her appearance and presentation. Being on TV forced her to confront that discomfort and has reminded her, “Oh, yeah, I’m a charming, nice person.” It’s been nothing short of “life-changing” for both her and viewers loving what she represents.
“It’s given me a self-esteem about my image that I really never had before,” she adds.
To her surprise, Schneider hasn’t faced much online trolling, which remains common for transgender people. Sony Pictures Television, which produces the show, put her in touch with GLAAD before her episodes started airing to talk through how to deal with online hate. Namely, don’t engage.
“It’s been a challenge to do that at times, to hold my tongue,” she says. She found a workaround, recently tweeting: “I’d like to thank all the people who have taken the time, during this busy holiday season, to reach out and explain to me that, actually, I’m a man. Every single one of you is the first person ever to make that very clever point, which had never once before crossed my mind.”
“I was really glad that that came to me as a way of saying something without directly engaging anyone,” she says.
Schneider is active on Twitter, regularly recapping her games and strategy through detailed, dizzying threads. “It wasn’t something I had originally planned,” she says. “I did it for my first game and then people liked it. And I realized that it’s something that I always would have liked to see” as a fan.
Viewers may have noticed a few pieces of jewelry Schneider wears: a pearl necklace and a nose ring.
The pearl necklace was a gift from Genevieve she wore on her first episode. (“Jeopardy!” tapes five episodes a day at Sony’s Los Angeles studio, renamed for longtime host Alex Trebek, who died in 2020.) Genevieve gave it to her on her first birthday after they started dating. “Every lady should have a string of pearls,” Genevieve told Schneider.
Wearing the pearls turned into a way, win or lose, to always keep Genevieve close by: “It was the first significant time I’d spent apart from her since we’d started dating. And so having that was just a nice, just sort of comforting reminder that, that she was at home waiting for me.”
As for the nose ring, before her transition, she avoided tattoos or piercings of any kind – a commitment and permanent thing to do to your body.
“But then, transitioning is also a permanent thing to do to my body,” she says, recalling piercing her nose a few years ago. “And so once I’d done that, I was more open to it and just wanted to express myself. I’d always liked nose rings on other women. And so I said, ‘Well, let’s do it.'”
To any transgender kids watching at home like Schneider once was, heed her words: “You can do anything that you want to do. Being trans doesn’t have to be any kind of limitation. Even if it’s something you’ve never seen a trans person do before, maybe you’ll be the first.”