Amy Schneider rode a wave of wins on the quiz show Jeopardy! to break records, bust stereotypes and earn fans, who created the hashtag #teamAmy in support.
Schneider, 42, from Oakland, California, just ended her 40-game winning streak, earning more than $1.3 million. She now holds the record for the second-longest winning streak in the show’s history and is its winningest woman ever.
She’s also a transgender woman whose success has raised awareness and made her a role model for the LGBTQ community. But Schneider, who comments frequently on her Jeopardy! performance on Twitter, says being trans wasn’t the focus of her performance on the show.
“The fact is, I don’t actually think about being trans all that often, and so when appearing on national television, I wanted to represent that part of my identity accurately: as important, but also relatively minor,” Schneider posted on Twitter. However, she’s well aware of her impact.
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Around Thanksgiving, Schneider wore a transgender flag pin on her sweater, to show solidarity with her community at a particularly tough time of year. She chose to wear the pin, she noted on Twitter, because many young transgender people face hostile environments when returning home for Thanksgiving.
Just after her winning streak came to an end, Schneider expressed gratitude for the support she received. “Going into my first taping, one of the things I told myself was ‘Just be yourself, and then whatever happens as a result, you’ll be ok with it,’ ” she wrote on Twitter. “I’m so glad that seems to have come across for everyone!”
America got to know Amy
Schneider’s run of 40 Jeopardy! wins is the second-most successful in the show’s history. As part of her streak, she became the first openly transgender contestant to qualify for the annual Tournament of Champions, making her mark with a distinctive buzzer style, which she told Good Morning America comes from instinct and feel, and her ever-present pearls, a gift from her girlfriend.
Schneider grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and told the Journal-News that Jeopardy! was a fixture in her household. Her father auditioned for the show, and her mother was a math professor at several local universities. Growing up, Schneider was active in her high school’s theater program, which she said gave her confidence on the Jeopardy! stage.
It was that theater experience that helped her reconcile her gender identity before coming out in 2016. Schneider noted on Twitter that performing in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream helped her begin to accept herself, writing that “dressing up as a woman every night felt shockingly right to me.”
Throughout her Jeopardy! run Schneider posted analyses of her wins on Twitter, amassing more than 100,000 followers.
While Schneider isn’t exactly downplaying her success, she does often remind the world that she is just a woman showing off her skills in a game that is well suited to them.
“Jeopardy!’s central gimmick ... teaches an underrated skill, which is simply understanding what you’re being asked,” Schneider recently wrote in a piece she penned for the sports and culture website Defector. “The gimmick of the show forces a weird kind of syntax on the clues, so that, oftentimes, you have to untangle the question before you can even begin to find the answer.”
Schneider has said in interviews that she didn’t really have a specific strategy when playing a game of Jeopardy! Instead, she told USA Today, she tried to bet on herself by going big on Daily Doubles when the opportunity presented itself and just tried to keep her run going.
Schneider’s visibility on Jeopardy! and her winning streak have had an impact on the transgender community, whether Schneider set out to have one or not. For many Americans it was their first time seeing a transgender person regularly – even if only through a video screen.
“Amy Schneider’s incredible run on Jeopardy! allows families all over the country to get to know her as someone who is great at word puzzles, has in-depth knowledge on a range of topics and who also happens to be a transgender woman,” says Nick Adams, director of transgender representation at GLAAD. “Amy is using her history-making appearances and new platform to raise awareness of transgender issues and share a bit of her personal story, too.”
Schneider’s reach has gone beyond success on television. Some in the trans community have found that her wins on a mainstream show viewed by millions have created a deeper understanding of who a transgender person is.
For Madeleine Anderson, 30, from Connecticut, Schneider’s visibility has been helpful in improving her relationship with her grandparents. When Anderson first came out as transgender to her grandparents last September, they were confused and said they “needed more time” to digest the news, Anderson says. She worried that her grandparents might be intolerant of those in the LGBTQ community, but a recent visit went smoothly. Her grandmother admitted she wasn’t sure what to think of Anderson’s transition until she saw Schneider’s run on Jeopardy! and became a fan.
“I’m pretty sure that this was the first time [my grandmother] had ever seen any positive representation of trans people in news or media before — certainly one where we weren’t portrayed as scary or weird or where our trans-ness was the center of our identity,” Anderson says. “I don’t think this was the only thing that made her accepting, of course. But I think it helped smooth the path to help her think of transition as something not shocking, and just part of life.”
Sydney Bauer is contributing writer who covers sports, politics, and major events through the lens of identity and gender. Her work has appeared in outlets including Reuters, them., the Daily Beast, and The New Republic.