OAKLAND, Calif. — When Amy Schneider’s 40-day “Jeopardy!” winning streak ended, she said she handed out thank-you notes to the crew, briefly chatted with other contestants, then excused herself.
“I went in the bathroom, cried for about 30 or 40 seconds, pulled myself together and headed out,” Schneider said from her sunny apartment in Oakland on Friday.
The way she recounted her defeat mirrored the way she played on “Jeopardy!”: quickly, efficiently and with matter-of-fact warmth.
“It wasn’t just a feeling of sadness, there was a sense of relief,” she added. “It was so exhausting.”
Schneider’s continued success on the show meant that once her episodes starting taping at the end of September, she was competing in five games a day, twice a week for several consecutive weeks, commuting from Oakland to Los Angeles.
By the time she filmed her last episode Nov. 9, she had taken a demotion at work, used all her paid time off and taken several unpaid days in order to keep her job as a software engineer.
She left the show having won $1,382,800. But as of this week, her check hadn’t arrived yet and Schneider was still working full time.
“It started airing when I knew that I had done this kind of historic thing and nobody else knew anything about it,” she said.
Now, people know. Schneider surpassed Matt Amodio’s 38-day streak, leaving her behind only Ken Jennings, who won 74 consecutive games in 2004.
She was a virtuoso in terms of accuracy and speed, but unlike Amodio, her style of play was traditional. Schneider favored playing a single category vertically from the lowest to highest score rather than playing across the lucrative bottom row, a style popularized by James Holzhauer, who won $2,464,216 during his 32-game streak in 2019. Schneider didn’t bounce around the board looking for Daily Doubles in the style of previous contestants like Chuck Forrest and Arthur Chu. And her wagers tended to be conservative.
Her strategy paid off. Schneider left the show as the highest-winning woman in the show’s history. She’s already a legend among “Jeopardy!” fans and former contestants.
“The depth and breadth of her knowledge are remarkable,” said Terry Wolfisch Cole, one of the 82 contestants who competed against Schneider during her run on the show.
“I’ll give anything a shot now”
On the day I met Schneider, she had already given three interviews. If she was tired of speaking to reporters, she didn’t let it show.
She greeted me wearing an oxblood dress with big white polka dots from Anthropologie that revealed a large tattoo on her left arm of the titular character from L. Frank Baum’s novel “The Ozma of Oz.” Ozma has special significance for Schneider. “When she was an infant, she was kidnapped and enchanted by an evil sorceress and raised as a boy,” she said.
“And then the enchantment was lifted, and she was revealed to be the beautiful princess she was all along,” Schneider said.
In lieu of her signature pearls, she wore a necklace that depicted the Star, one of her favorite tarot cards. The necklace was a gift from her girlfriend, Genevieve Davis, 25, who is from Oakland and works as a nanny. The night they met, Schneider gave Davis a tarot reading. Schneider describes herself as an atheist who doesn’t believe in the occult or the supernatural but, as she said, “It’s not a queer meet cute if there’s not tarot.”
Schneider came to tarot via her ex-wife, who introduced her to Rachel Pollack’s book “Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom.” Tarot would have been out of the question when she was growing up in Dayton, Ohio. Catholicism was important to her family, and Schneider struggled with her faith when she was younger.
She recounted one moment in 2002 when she had driven with her brother and two cousins to Toronto to see Pope John Paul II for World Youth Day. Schneider agreed to the trip in part to avoid telling her mother that she no longer considered herself Catholic.
They waited in a field the night before to secure their spots but had neglected to bring tents or camping gear. As they tried to sleep, it started to rain. Then liturgical music started blaring over the sound system.
This time became a bench mark for Schneider. “Whenever it gets bad, I think, ‘I’m not lying in a field in the rain,’” she said.
Since her transition in 2017, Schneider said that she’s made a point to say yes to new experiences. “Because there was so much that I denied myself for so long, I’ll give anything a shot now.”
That included dabbling in stand-up comedy, piercing her nose and entering a new relationship, her first since she separated from her wife in 2016.
Now 43, Schneider is enamored of her new girlfriend. The two women openly gush about each other, share inside jokes and dote on their black long-haired cat, Meep, whose toys were scattered across their living room floor. (In case you needed further proof that Schneider is a cat person, she scrubs her dishes with cat-shaped sponges and cuts her vegetables on a cat-shaped cutting board.)
“I’ve had two serious relationships in my life, and this is the second,” Schneider said. “When I met the woman who became my wife, I had never even kissed anyone and I was 25.”
What is public?
There is an unfortunate pattern of “Jeopardy!” alums — particularly women — being targeted online after their appearances. Former contestants have recounted incidents that included insults, creepy messages and outright threats.
To prepare for this, Schneider followed the guidance offered to all new contestants by the show’s producers, including locking down her social media accounts. She also created the public-facing @Jeopardamy Instagram and Twitter accounts. Still, these precautions didn’t prevent harassment online.
So far, she has mostly ignored the vitriol directed at her, or responded with sarcasm, as she did in a “thank-you” tweet she posted on New Year’s Eve.
Several weeks ago, Schneider was robbed at gunpoint in the lobby of her apartment building. She was not physically harmed and stressed that she doesn’t think the incident was related to her appearance on “Jeopardy!” Still, it’s not her favorite thing to talk about.
“I tweeted about it, and so it was public, and that’s on me,” she said. “But to have people in my life find out about this thing that happened to me by seeing a news article was a slightly unsettling thing to happen.”
When she was preparing to compete, Schneider had to decide how she wanted to look. She brought along a favorite pink blazer and made a few trips to Target and Nordstrom Rack. She said she “overpacked” jewelry, but after she won a few games in the pearls she thought audiences might like it if she continued with a signature accessory.
She also considered how she wanted to sound.
“I’ve got a more feminine voice when I really want to, and I’d sort of been planning on using that voice on TV,” she said. But she ultimately decided that consciously altering her voice could affect her gameplay and chose to speak in her usual register. She’s proud of that decision.
“Trans women watching can see me with my voice as it is and see me being OK with it,” she said. Her voice had once been a source of dysphoria for Schneider, but now she is considering turning it into a career. She recently signed with talent agency CAA and said that she’s interested in voice acting.
She is also weighing a return to podcasting. She and her ex-wife used to co-host a “Downton Abbey” podcast, and she hosted a show about “Moby-Dick” and a tarot podcast called “These Are Just Cards.”
“Jeopardy!” forbids contestants to appear on other game shows for six months after they are on the show, but after that Schneider is also open to more game show appearances, which could be well suited to her preternatural response time.
She practiced for “Jeopardy!” using click pens and said she didn’t know she had a gift for buzzing in until she was on the show. This fact will no doubt frustrate many contestants, some of whom train with special buzzers, designed to mimic those used in the “Jeopardy!” studios, to shave milliseconds from their buzzes.
On Friday, Schneider went to the Heart and Dagger Saloon in Oakland to watch herself play. She settled onto a bar stool to order a sauvignon blanc and a pack of Parliament Lights.
Another customer asked a bartender if the TV would be tuned to the Warriors game. “No, we’re watching ‘Jeopardy!’” the bartender replied, nodding to Schneider. The man lit up when he recognized the champion sitting next to him. “Unbelievable! Cheers!” he said, toasting her. Moments later, a bearded man sitting next to him leaned over and asked, “You got robbed?”
Schneider smiled and nodded. “Yeah, I got robbed.”
Over the course of the show’s 30 minutes, two patrons sent free drinks, which were happily accepted by Schneider.
After watching herself win $25,000 in Final Jeopardy, Schneider went to the bar’s patio with Davis and their friend Hilary Hays.
Hays manages the @Jeopardamy Instagram account. “I was like, ‘Let’s get you on Instagram and get you some free stuff!’” Hays said, using an expletive. The Instagram account features a collection of portraits courtesy of the show that are remarkably similar. Schneider is almost always framed identically, smiling in front of the show’s blue set, head tilted, pearls around her neck. Her clothing is conservative, and the captions are direct: “Day 32: I’ve worn this blouse a few times now and who doesn’t enjoy a good find from @target?”
“I would have no interest if anyone else did it, but apparently people like it,” Schneider said of the account, which has more than 25,000 followers. Hays said celebrities, including Kelly Osbourne, Molly Shannon, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Amy Schumer, have sent her direct messages.
If the goal was to get free stuff, it seemed to be working. The following day, Schneider went to Nordstrom in San Francisco to shop for clothes with a stylist courtesy of the store. She was on the lookout for something to wear to April’s GLAAD Media Awards, at which she would be honored.
After settling on a haul that included a navy Alex Evenings gown, a blue and tan floral print dress by Maggy London, Marc Fisher pumps with a chunky heel and some jewelry, Schneider’s tab exceeded the $2,000 she had been given.
But when the cashier ran her credit card, her bank flagged the transaction as potentially fraudulent. The irony of having a credit card problem after having won more than $1 million was not lost on Schneider, but there was little time to dwell on the matter.
She was already late for a free hair coloring appointment across town.