'Jeopardy!' champ talks about her historic run and being openly trans
Who is the "Jeopardy!" Champion with Dayton roots?
Amy Schneider has been making history on the game show Jeopardy! She's won more than $800,000 so far and become the first openly transgender contestant to qualify for the "Tournament of Champions." Schneider, who was raised in Dayton, spoke with WYSO’s Jason Reynolds about putting her stamp on the show...
REYNOLDS: Can you tell me a little bit about getting on Jeopardy? I hear it took a decade of tryouts for you to make the show. So, what was different this time or was it just a lottery system?
SCHNEIDER: I mean, some of it's just the lottery, some of it... I think the other couple of times when I made it to the last stage were times before I had transitioned. And I think that now that I am out, I'm much more expressive. I'm much more willing to sort of show myself and show my emotions. And that's something that they're definitely looking for. They want people who are really going to come across on screen.
REYNOLDS: I can see that. There have been a few openly trans players on Jeopardy! before, like Kate Freeman last year. But you are the first openly trans person to really make a remarkable historic run. What does it mean to you to break ground for the trans community in that way?
SCHNEIDER: It's really great. You know, I sometimes have this sort of feeling of almost guilt because I've really had a very smooth process in my transition. I live in the Bay Area, which is obviously a very welcoming place, and it's also just like all the work that trans people before me have done to give us visibility and acceptance in society. So I really haven't faced that much adversity relative to people in other times and places. And it's really nice to feel that I am doing something for the community to kind of pay back all the other work that was done by people before me to make my life easier. And the idea that I'm making life easier for other trans people to follow is a really, really rewarding feeling.
REYNOLDS: I know being open about yourself leads to a lot of online trolling, sadly, but I've also heard you talk about the kind comments you’ve received, and not just from trans people, but from their friends and families. Could you share some of that with me?
SCHNEIDER: Absolutely. I think the things that have kind of been most meaningful to me have been hearing from parents and grandparents of trans people. You know, Jeopardy reaches an older demographic. For those people, I think that, you know, it's not that they didn't love and accept their trans loved ones. But I think coming from an older generation, what they had was fear for them and fear for how their lives would be. I know that when I came out, that was kind of the first reaction of my mother. She was just worried that I would be okay. And so to show them that here I am, a trans person being more than okay, that's something I can really, really provide for them. And that's something that I didn't think about and I wasn't expecting. That's just really made me happy.
REYNOLDS: People in Dayton are really excited to see you win for weeks on Jeopardy! now. But at the same time, you're the perfect example of brain drain from our region. You're not just a Jeopardy! champion. You're a successful engineer manager out in California. What do you think cities like Dayton or states like Ohio need to do to retain talent like yours?
SCHNEIDER: That's a good question. I love Dayton, and it's the place I love to be from. I’ve definitely been so frustrated to not get in on a couple of Wright brothers questions that people beat me to on the buzzer and things like that. But the times I've been back, I've really seen it seeming like a better and better place. I had these concerns about what it would be like to be openly trans in Dayton. And the answer has been “fine,” like essentially no different. And so that's definitely a good thing.
REYNOLDS: Is there anything special you want to do with your winnings or your newfound celebrity? What do you do after becoming an all time great on what's probably America's most respected game show?
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, that's definitely a question I've been thinking about. One thing I'm hoping to do is to write more. I actually just got an email from Mr. Brooks, my English teacher at C.J., who is still there and is definitely somebody that helped inspire my love of writing. So, trying to do some of that and get my voice out there that way. As for the winnings, it's it's a lot of money. It doesn't go that far in the Bay Area, but we're definitely setting some of it aside to do some fun things, to do some traveling in particular. I think we're probably going to go to Ireland sometime in the spring.
REYNOLDS: You've been dynamite on the show. I hadn't watched Jeopardy! in years and you kind of got me back into it.
SCHNEIDER: That's excellent. I've heard that from some people, and that's one of the rewarding things about this. If I'm getting people back into it, that's great because Jeopardy! has been so important to me in my life, and I want it to continue on and on.