Amy Schneider has racked up more than $1 million in Jeopardy! winnings, but she says bringing positive transgender representation to television has been worth even more.
“It’s definitely been the most rewarding part of the whole experience,” says Schneider, who has so far won 30 games, putting her at number 4 in terms of games won and regular-season cash winnings in the show’s history. She is the first woman contestant to pass the $1 million mark. She is not the first out trans contestant or champ, but she is the first to qualify for the Tournament of Champions, reserved for the top 15 winners of each season.
Schneider’s long winning streak — the show used to retire champions after five victories but now allows them to stay on as long as they keep winning — has made her profile particularly high, and she is an active social media presence as well.
On her Twitter feed, she has occasionally taken jabs at transphobes and noted that Republicans want to make life harder for trans people, but mostly she’s analyzed the game. For those unfamiliar with trans people, she’s become a relatable face, and she reports that she’s received much positive feedback from trans folks who say she’s helped their parents understand their identity.
Schneider, 42, is a longtime Jeopardy! fan, having grown up watching the cerebral quiz show. “I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t watching it,” she says. When she was eighth grade, her classmates voted her most likely to appear on Jeopardy! one day. It took her a while; she tried out for years, including while she was still living in her native state of Ohio, which she left for California in 2009.
How far she’s gone on the show, she says, “feels strange and surprising — far beyond what I saw coming.” Jeopardy! episodes are taped a few months before they are broadcast, and contestants are sworn to secrecy about the results of any shows that haven’t aired yet, so fans will have to keep watching to see if Schneider keeps winning.
Schneider is a software engineering manager living in Oakland. She’s been a software engineer for her entire career, about 20 years, and a manager for the past five or six. Her outside interests over the years have included theater, stand-up comedy, karaoke, and tarot reading.
It was a theater role that led her to realize her identity. In her mid-30s, pre-transition, she was appearing as Francis Flute in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. At one point, in a play within the play, Flute is forced to play a female role. Presenting as female led Schneider to do some thinking, and “it felt really right,” she says.
She transitioned a few years later. Interactions with her family and friends at the time “went fairly well,” she says. “At this point, we’re all good.”
She and her partner, Genevieve, of whom she has spoken on the show, have been together about a year. Asked if having a female partner means Schneider identifies as a lesbian, she says, “We’re in a lesbian relationship. What we are, I don’t know.”
They plan to use part of Schneider’s winnings to buy a house together. Other plans include visiting a friend in Ireland and some other travels, and possibly a new career for Schneider, perhaps as a writer.
She attributes her success on Jeopardy! to having a good memory and a love of learning. “I was raised in an environment that really valued learning and education,” she says. Her favorite categories include any dealing with geography or wordplay; she’s a longtime devotee of crossword puzzles.
Being on the show has been overall a positive experience, Schneider says. “I don’t have a single bad thing to say about anyone involved with Jeopardy!” she says. Not that she expected anything bad, but the experience has been even better than she anticipated, she explains.
She admits to being a bit intimidated about the Tournament of Champions, for which dates have yet to be announced. “It’s going to be a really strong field,” she says. Another contestant who’s already qualified for this year’s tournament is Matt Amodio, who won 38 games and $1.5 million. Amodio is second in games won and third in regular-season cash winnings over the show’s history. James Holzhauer won 32 straight games and $2.46 million in 2019, and current Jeopardy! host Ken Jennings won 74 consecutive regular-season games and $2.52 million in 2004.
“It’s going to be really challenging,” she says of the tournament, “but it’s going to be a lot of fun.”