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Amy Schneider’s Historic 'Jeopardy!' Run Comes to an End

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She's now the best female player of all-time.

Amy Schneider’s win streak on the game show "Jeopardy!" ended last night. The Dayton native won 40 straight games and 1.3 million dollars, making her one of the best players of all-time. She’s also the first openly transgender contestant to qualify for the Tournament of Champions. WYSO’s Jason Reynolds talked with Schneider about what it takes to be a Jeopardy! Champion. 

(The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.)

REYNOLDS: So, years ago, I was in my kitchen making some food, and my family must have been watching Jeopardy! in the living room. And I started answering the questions. I was getting them all right. Then, I peeked in the living room during double jeopardy, and it turned out it was Teen Jeopardy.

SCHNEIDER: Oh! Yeah!

REYNOLDS: And I realized I wasn't that smart. So people like me, who just aren't that good at it, we wonder, how do you get smart enough and quick enough? Is it superior memory? Years of reading? Mastering the buzzer? What's the secret?

SCHNEIDER: I think it's a few things. One is definitely having a good memory, which is, to an extent, genetic. I just have always been able to remember things easily. That one's just kind of luck. But beyond that, I think just cultivating an attitude of curiosity and wanting to learn and wanting to know things. That's why I do give a lot of credit to my parents for fostering that kind of environment, and they really encouraged it and encouraged me to want to learn and to want to know things. There was a rule at family dinner. There was no reading at the table, and the only exception was if we had to go get the dictionary or encyclopedia to look something up that had come up in conversation. So, I think that's definitely the most important thing. And then buzzer timing is also really important, but I don't know how I'm good at it, so I don't really have any tips on that one.

REYNOLDS: I hear sometimes you record two or three shows in a day. Does your thumb wear out or does it give you an advantage when you're on a roll?

SCHNEIDER: Oh, I think it definitely does give you an advantage. I think that because it's actually five in a day.

REYNOLDS: Whoa!

SCHNEIDER: And so towards the end of the day, it can be a bit exhausting. Like the thumb is fine, but just like standing up and just the intense concentration can really be mentally tiring. But I've been practicing my buzzer timing all day at that point, and then some people come on that have just been kind of sitting all day watching. And I feel like, boy, that's kind of almost an unfair advantage.

REYNOLDS: I get mentally tired just watching it for a half-hour. So how do you do that for five straight shows, two and a half hours, plus production time and breaks?

SCHNEIDER: I don't know. You just kind of grit your teeth and get through it to an extent. The main thing for me was always to focus on staying in the moment, like just focus on the next clue. I would even not know what the score was a lot of the time as the game was going on. You know, it doesn't matter what the score is, your goal is to get the next question, right? Keep that out of your mind and just stay focused. And so I think that helped a bit too with kind of ignoring the fatigue that might be going on. But yeah, it definitely, definitely adds up by the end of the day.

REYNOLDS: You’re also really in tune with the history of the show. When you reached 20 wins, tying Julia Collins for most wins by a female contestant, you wore the same type of sweater she did when she was on the show. Tell me about that.

SCHNEIDER: Yeah, well, I mean, I remember her. She was just very straightforward. She didn't have—I don't want to say a gimmick, because that sounds too dismissive, but definitely some of the bigger champions have had their own style of play. She didn't really have a very noticeable one. She just knew a lot and got in on the buzzer, and I appreciated that about her. Of all the people that I could, you know, sort of match their accomplishments, she was definitely the one that I sort of felt proudest of, and that was the one that meant the most to me. So, I definitely wanted to acknowledge it.

REYNOLDS: What do you think your style will be like? What do you think people will remember from your style?

SCHNEIDER: I don't know. That's a good question. It's probably a question that other people can answer better to an extent. But I mean, I think that I try to stick with one category at a time because I don't think it matters that much. And I know that from watching it all these years, I know that makes it a better experience to watch when people aren't jumping around.

I think what I hope most is that people felt like they were seeing, you know, more or less the real me. That was something I really worked on with myself. You know, mentally, leading up to it was, “How would I handle the pressure of being on TV in something like nine million households tonight?” And so the thing I went with was just like, “You know what? Just be yourself. And then whatever comes out of that, you'll be able to deal with it. You'll be okay with it because it was you.” And so it seems like that's coming across and that's what I hope for.