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After being voted "Most likely to win 'Jeopardy!'" in eighth grade, Amy Schneider wasn't all too surprised she wound up on the competitive trivia show. But the champion says she couldn't have predicted to win 40 games and take home over $1 million.
The 44-year-old made history as the first openly transgender contestant to qualify for, and win, the Tournament of Champions. Only the show's co-host, Ken Jennings, ranks above her, winning 74 consecutive games.
But becoming a champion wasn't smooth sailing. Following her appearance on TODAY, Schneider opened up to TODAY.com about her winning streak and what to expect from her memoir.
Schneider's road to 'Jeopardy!'
Schneider says it took nearly 15 years of trying out to finally secure a spot on the show.
Once she made the show, she says "it was definitely surreal."
"I’ve been watching the show my whole life. I thought I could win ... but I wasn’t expecting that to happen," she continues.
Schneider says her winning streak was even more "weird" because not everyone in her life was watching. Ultimately, that made it easier for her to stay steady.
Her mantra: Take it one game at a time.
This mindful way of playing allowed her to not get caught up in the pressure of making history.
"But also there was this reality that was like making $100,000 a day some days. It was freaking me out," Schneider says. "I never thought this was gonna happen in my life and I wanted to keep it going as long as I could."
Over the course of her 40 wins, Schneider says she accumulated over $1.3 million. Her first big purchase? Courtside seats to a Golden State Warriors basketball game.
"But also some traveling," she says of more ways that she's used her winnings. "Me and my wife go to Sonoma a lot. And we do enjoy high-end tasting menu restaurants. So we’ve involved that a lot more than we would have been able to otherwise."
Making history as a trans contestant
In the 15 years she spent auditioning, Schneider often felt daunted by the idea of being an out transgender person on TV, especially given the state of pop culture representation for many years.
“There was a time when I stopped trying out because ... I was afraid of that exposure,” she says. “But as I got sort of more comfortable with myself, it just became a thing where it’s like, you know what, this has been my dream my whole life. I’m not going to let that be taken away from me.”
Once she got on the show, her fear remained — but were quickly dismantled. More than the winnings, Schneider says she couldn’t have imagined the positive response she received.
"Once I was on ('Jeopardy!') and having this long streak, I knew it was gonna be a big thing. I feared that it will make me a target and there would be backlash," she says of her transgender identity. "It happened a little bit, but it was so drowned out by all the other people telling me how much it meant to them."
Schneider says people in the trans community have reached out to her and expressed their appreciation for her presence on the show, telling her that their parents and older relatives started using the correct name and pronouns.
How to win at 'Jeopardy!'
Though Schneider says she's always had a good memory for tests and trivia facts since she was a kid, she said there was more that contributed to her intelligence at this point in her life.
"You should really try to enjoy learning for its own sake, because then, whether or not it gets one to 'Jeopardy!,' you’ll have knowledge and you’ll have fun," she advices those following in her footsteps.
The champion says most of her "Jeopardy!" answers weren't from content she studied, but rather from information she'd come across learning and curiosity.
Given that it took her 15 years to have her moment on the show, Schneider also says to "be persistent."
"For people who would have tried, if you don’t get on the first time, keep with it."
Schneider continues, "If you’re doubting whether you should try out (for the show), you should because it is so much fun. And I would say that if I hadn’t won a single game, it is a really great experience."
Now, as the most successful woman to compete on "Jeopardy!," Schneider put pen to paper and has released her first memoir, "In the Form of a Question: The Joys and Rewards of a Curious Life."
As she "excitedly" awaits how people respond to the book, Schneider says she hopes to continue writing and revealed she has a possible comedy and trivia-based podcast in the works.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com