‘Jeopardy!’ Superstar Amy Schneider Was Too Busy to Practice for the Tournament of Champions

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Courtesy of Jeopardy!
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Courtesy of Jeopardy!

It’s hard to believe that it hasn’t even been a full year since Amy Schneider began her record-breaking Jeopardy! streak. We’re coming up on the one-year mark—she began her streak on Nov. 17, 2021—but before she celebrates, Schneider faces another big Jeopardy! milestone. She’s about to compete in the Tournament of Champions.

Once a year, the best and brightest Jeopardy! players make a pilgrimage to the Alex Trebek Stage, competing in a bracket-style competition to declare the year’s best contestant. Folks who have won five or more games qualify for the Tournament of Champions, making the challenge extra tough. This year, the stakes are especially high, as Schneider faces off against some of the most decorated players of all time—including other recent landmark winners. (But not Ken Jennings, who has the longest streak and will actually be hosting the tourney.)

With her entrance into the league of Jeopardy! greats, Schneider becomes the first out trans player in the Tournament of Champions. With divine timing, Schneider actually won her first game last year in the middle of Transgender Awareness Week, and she might have the opportunity to play during this year’s Awareness Week as well. That is, if she can make it far enough into the tournament.

She'll begin her return on Wednesday, Nov. 9, and though she’s truly proven herself as the player to beat—with a record-smashing 40 wins in a row, the longest streak for a woman Jeopardy! player, only behind host Ken Jennings in total wins—Schneider faces a handful of strong competitors in the coming weeks. There’s Matt Amodio, who had an equally-stunning streak of 38 wins last year. Also competing is “second-chance” contestant Andrew He, who nearly beat Schneider in her very first game.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Courtesy of Jeopardy!</div>
Courtesy of Jeopardy!

“These are all people that have earned a certain intimidation factor of their own,” Schneider says in an interview. Still, the contestant says she wasn’t too worried about throwing down with hall of fame players: “It’s not that it’s not competitive, but it’s that we’re all there having one of the best experiences of our lives. I don’t think anyone was too caught up in that fear aspect of it. We’re all there, knowing it was going to be great, regardless of how the results came out.”

Days ahead of her big return to Jeopardy!, Amy Schneider sat down with The Daily Beast’s Obsessed to chat about Twitter backlash, the hosting talents of Ken Jennings versus Mayim Bialik, and the biggest ways her life has changed since first appearing on the quiz show, nearly one year ago.

I wanted to start off by asking you about a silly tweet I saw while I was glancing at the Jeopardy! hashtag. It said that, because everything in this country is kind of going wrong, that the United States should become a monarchy with you as its queen. What’s your reaction to goofy, supportive tweets like these?

It’s really fun. It’s not really a nickname, because nobody else uses it, but I call myself “Queen Bee” sometimes. It feels right, in a way.

Everyone talks about the “Amodio Rodeo,” so you need a similar nickname.

There have been a few things out there, but none that have clicked the way “Amodio Rodeo” did.

Amy Schneider Is Proud to Be ‘Jeopardy!’s’ Trans Champ. ‘But I’m a Lot of Other Things, Too!’

Speaking of Twitter, have you been preparing your post-game analysis for the upcoming Tournament of Champions?

I have been. It’s sort of a weird thing, [because] the format is different, but yes. I’m definitely preparing. I wish I was more active on Twitter. I used to be, but you get so many followers that you start to get a little gun shy throwing things out at random. I’m definitely excited. There’s a lot of fun behind-the-scenes stuff from the tournament that I’m excited to talk about.

Who were you most excited to meet? Most intimidating?

I had briefly met them before, but Mattea [Roach]. I had talked to them on Twitter, and we hit it off a little bit. I feel like I always get along with Canadians, so it was exciting to meet them.

In terms of intimidation—all of them, on some level. But the two at the top of the list were certainly Matt Amodio and Andrew He, because [Andrew is] who I played in my first game, and he absolutely could’ve won and kind of should’ve. He would say the same thing. He’s somebody that I know, from experience, can beat me. I feel my heart rate go up a little bit, going up against him.

People on Twitter are enthralled by the idea of you and Andrew going up against each other again. Can you tease what was going on inside your head during your upcoming throwdown?

The flip side to knowing that he could beat me was also knowing that I can beat him. Just in general, my feeling was that anyone in this field could beat anyone else—if their timing is on that day, if they get the right clues, that sort of thing. Not to stress too much about the specific person I’m going up against. All you can do is focus on the board and the next clue.

Watching Alex Trebek’s Last ‘Jeopardy!’ as America Crumbles

Some people are peeved over the fact that you, Mattea, and Matt were allowed to breeze past the quarterfinals and into the semifinals. What’s your reaction to that?

I don’t understand why it’s a controversy, because so many sports do the same thing! Specifically this time around, because of the disruptions with COVID and Alex [Trebek]’s passing, they hadn’t had a tournament in a while. To limit it to that format of 15 people would’ve left out some really deserving contestants that ought to be in the tournament. But they wouldn’t have been able to expand it to whatever it would’ve taken to get a three-round format, so they’re going to have to throw in some buys—just like baseball has been known to do, just like football does. It’s just to make the tournament bracket math work.

Also, shouldn’t everyone be so excited to see the three of you play again? What’s the big deal?

I mean, look, I’m hardly an impartial observer on this question!

After stumbling on Final Jeopardy cost you your streak, did you have to practice that specific round going into the Tournament of Champions?

When I was watching at home, I would write down the Final Jeopardy answer instead of just yelling it at the TV like usual, just to get myself thinking that way. Mainly, it was about trying to visualize that situation, visualize the clue coming up, not knowing the answer right away, just that I’m going to stay calm and trust that it’s going to come to me by the end of the time.

How was your reunion with Ken Jennings?

I’ve made it quite clear that I love Ken as a host. I really felt like I hit it off with him. It was great seeing him again.

In a Reddit AMA you did last month, you said that you preferred Ken as host over Mayim Bialik. Why is that?

It’s not that I think she’s bad. She’s certainly a fine host, and I know people prefer her. I can see why. The thing about it, to me, is that Ken has that deep knowledge of Jeopardy! He has a love for it. He has an intuitive feeling for the flow of the game and can comment on it. The job of Jeopardy! host is partly host, partly play-by-play commentator on how things are going, and I think he handles that balance really well. It’s not so much that Mayim isn’t good as I think Ken is extra good.

Are there any other Jeopardy! legends that you want to meet, or have you met everyone?

I’ve met a lot of them! Julia Collins, I haven’t met, and I’m unlikely to. I think she’s moved on and is living a perfectly happy life elsewhere.

A lot of big Jeopardy! names compete in other trivia tournaments or in other game shows, sometimes in a hosting capacity. Would you be interested in anything like that?

It’s more or less up to them. I know that they want to keep me around. I’ve certainly gotten a lot out of my relationship with Jeopardy! so far, they’ve treated me well. I’ve been a lifelong fan, so however they want me to be involved, we’ll have those conversations. As we’ve seen in the last year, the new producer’s really interested in shaking things up and trying out things with the format. I can’t really predict what he might come up with! But I’m always ready to pick up the phone if they call.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Courtesy of Jeopardy!</div>
Courtesy of Jeopardy!

I remember a tweet where you said that the only thing you didn’t like about winning was that two other people had to lose. Now, you’re playing with a bunch of folks who have already won before—did you feel more competitive?

At the end of the day, once the game started, I always was competitive. There was a difference just in the sense that, at a certain point in my first streak, I started expecting to win. How could you not? In the tournament, there’s no way I could expect to win any particular game in the same way. They’re all going to be a fight.

That one quote really broke headlines. “Jeopardy Winner Reveals What Sucks About Winning” is one I recall reading.

That was one of the fun things about becoming famous. All those clickbait headlines said that I “revealed” something. I just said that! It’s not revealing every time I say something. But that was funny.

Maybe a more challenging feat than beating fellow contestants: Did you have to prepare more anecdotes?

Well, yes! But on the other hand, I’ve had a very interesting life this past year, so it wasn’t actually that hard.

What’s the biggest way your life has changed since you played that very first Jeopardy! game last year?

When I’m outside of my apartment, there’s a chance that I’ll be recognized. I have to be ready for that, no matter what else is going on with me. The line I always see is, “Oh, you must be tired of that!” Yeah, I’m tired of strangers coming up and telling me I’m great. Whatever. What a hard life, you know? On a day-to-day level, that’s the most noticeable.

The main thing is really just having the freedom to do what I want to do, having that financial cushion to quit my day job and see what else in the world I can accomplish. It’s not something I expected to happen in my life. It’s been really exciting to go out there and not have to worry about making rent ever.

What was the wildest, larger-than-life experience that came out of your life post-Jeopardy! streak?

The one that I think is the funnest story is that I got invited to the White House Correspondents dinner, and I saw Drew Barrymore in the women’s room. It was really like, “Oh, wow!” Some other person was cornering her and telling her something really emotional, ignoring Drew Barrymore wanting to leave. So I didn’t bother her. But that was really fun.

Now we’ve got to get you on The Drew Barrymore Show. That needs to happen!

Yeah!

What’s the weirdest thing about Jeopardy! that people wouldn’t expect about the show?

One thing is just how often the host stumbles over his lines and has to reshoot them. With Hollywood magic, it seems like he nails it every time. I saw a taping once with Alex, and it was the same way with him. It’s not that Ken can’t do it.

The other kind of silly thing I learned from [being on the show] was that it doesn’t air in the evening everywhere. Everywhere I’ve lived, it’s been on at 7:30 or something like that. But some places, it’s a daytime show, which I learned because Ken would accidentally say something like, “Join us tomorrow night,” and then have to go back. It’s not necessarily night in all their markets.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

When you got onto Jeopardy! for the first time, you were waiting on a call with the magic news. But you knew for quite a while that you’d be returning for the Tournament of Champions. How was preparing for those two experiences different?

To be honest, and this wasn’t my plan, I prepared less for the tournament than I did the first time around. Last year, at this time, my life was really boring. I had nothing else going on to keep me from practicing for Jeopardy! In the last couple of weeks, I definitely got serious about it, just going through the old games and practicing my buzzer time, all those sorts of things that I’d done the year before.

Generally, my attitude both times was: Go ahead and study at the last minute, because you’ll feel bad if you don’t. But it’s not going to matter. The things you cram at the last minute aren’t going to come up. That’s the way it is. You know what you know, just trust that.

You kind of saved Jeopardy! at a time the show needed it most. Alex had passed, and there was the new host drama. But after all of that, you were a shining ray of light. Finally, there were good headlines about Jeopardy!

It’s something where you feel weird saying it too much. But definitely—Jeopardy! had nothing but bad headlines for months, and that was something that was really bumming me out. To get people excited about Jeopardy! the way that they ought to be, and to know that people were into it and enjoying it the way they used to—I think I can reasonably say I helped Jeopardy! in some way, so I’m really grateful. I’ve been a lifelong fan.

The other thing that went along with it was that it was also nice to see a bunch of nice headlines that had the word “trans” in them, and that weren’t very depressing. That was the other good thing. Hopefully, maybe we’ll be seeing more of those in the next weeks to give everybody something else.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.