‘Jeopardy!’ returns: Reigning champion talks about growing up in Dayton, competing on the show

Dayton native Amy Schneider, an Oakland, California engineering manager, is the reigning "Jeopardy!" champion.

Combined ShapeCaption
Dayton native Amy Schneider, an Oakland, California engineering manager, is the reigning "Jeopardy!" champion.

If you’ve been watching “Jeopardy!” recently, you’re well aware of Dayton native Amy Schneider’s incredibly impressive winning streak.

Having first competed on Nov. 17, Schneider has reigned for 13 days, winning a total of $536,400. In fact, she is in the “Jeopardy!” Hall of Fame as the fourth all-time champion during the regular season.

The top three highest-winning champions during the regular season are Ken Jennings ($2,520,700), James Holzhauer ($2,462,216) and Matt Amodio ($1,518,601).

“This has been the best experience of my life,” said Schneider, an engineering manager residing in Oakland, California since 2009. “It is immensely gratifying. But the idea that I would achieve this level of success was not on my radar. The main thing I keep telling myself, and the same thing the contestant coordinators tell us, is just to stay in the moment. No matter what is going on with the game, the only thing to worry about is the next question. If I play well, if I don’t get too rattled, I’ll feel good about the (result) no matter what happens. I’ve learned not to stress out – just let the (moment) happen.”

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"Jeopardy" host Ken Jennings with Amy Schneider.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

"Jeopardy" host Ken Jennings with Amy Schneider.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Combined ShapeCaption
"Jeopardy" host Ken Jennings with Amy Schneider.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Inside the game

Schneider, 42, attributes her lifelong admiration for “Jeopardy!” and inherent passion for acquiring knowledge to her upbringing. Her mother was a math professor at Sinclair Community College, University of Dayton and Wright State University. Her father was a programmer at University of Dayton.

“For as long as I can remember, ‘Jeopardy!’ has been in my life,” she said. “I love the way it values intelligence in a public way. Being in an intellectual household, I was definitely encouraged in developing my curiosity. The way my brain works, things just stick and I’m lucky in the sense that once I’ve read something it generally sticks with me.”

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After years of hoping to be on the show and reaching the final stages a few times, she got the call to compete in the fall of 2020. However, the day before taping, she was sidelined due to COVID concerns within production. More scheduling disruptions occurred shortly thereafter due to the death of beloved longtime host Alek Trebek. Nonetheless, she’s grateful her appointed time arrived this fall in spite of the strenuous studio commitment.

“We tape five shows in a day – a full week’s worth of shows,” she said. “It’s a pretty long day. You arrive by 7:30 a.m. and leave around 6 p.m.”

Reflecting on her 13 episodes, Schneider admits the most challenging experience was her first episode since she trailed going into Final Jeopardy. She also says the overall level of competition is fierce. Sometimes it’s just a matter of having the quickest reflexes.

“Everybody that gets to ‘Jeopardy!’ knows most of the answers on the board, so it becomes a lot about getting the timing right on the buzzer to ring in,” she said. “It’s a nail-biter.”

In terms of strategy, she particularly doesn’t follow Amodio’s method of beginning at the bottom of the board with the highest amounts. Instead, she prefers to answer randomly and build momentum across the entire board.

“As a returning champion, I feel I don’t have that much of an advantage especially in the first few clues,” she said. “I’ve also heard the game plays much better for the audience at home if players start at the top of the board and stick with one category for the most part. There were definite times where I knew I had to find the Daily Double, but as long as I felt like we were going to get through all of the clues I felt like I wanted to do it in the way that put on the best show.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Dayton native Amy Schneider, an Oakland, California engineering manager, is the reigning "Jeopardy!” champion.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Dayton native Amy Schneider, an Oakland, California engineering manager, is the reigning "Jeopardy!” champion.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Combined ShapeCaption
Dayton native Amy Schneider, an Oakland, California engineering manager, is the reigning "Jeopardy!” champion.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Safe haven on the stage

Growing up in Dayton, Schneider attended Corpus Christi School and graduated from Chaminade-Julienne High School. A performer since childhood and a particular fan of Shakespeare, she was active in CJ’s Drama Club, appearing in plays and musicals such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Snoopy.” At Dayton Playhouse, she participated in “Mame,” “Oliver!” and “Scrooge.”

“I always say there are two reasons why people get into theater,” she said. “People want to be seen and like being on stage performing, and the other is getting a chance to be someone else, not yourself, and you can hide behind the role. For me, theater was a way to express myself without feeling I was taking responsibility for it. Also, theater is addictive because you’re a part of team working together to create something. The sense of camaraderie developed over the course of a show, even in a production that I felt didn’t go well, ends in a real feeling of loss because the little community that came together is now splitting up.”

“In my years working with her, Amy had an understated charm, which she still exudes today,” said Fran Pesch, Dayton Playhouse FutureFest program director and former Chaminade-Julienne drama director. “One of the greatest benefits of being an educator is to witness students’ growth, both as performers and young adults. I have enjoyed watching Amy on ‘Jeopardy!’ and am so proud of her success. I am glad she continued to perform after high school. It would be nice to know that, in some small way, I nurtured her love of theater and the attributes needed to be a success in acting and life.”

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Embracing identity

Schneider has made “Jeopardy!” history as the first transgender contestant to qualify for the Tournament of Champions, where she will compete against the top players of the season. Her support of the trans community was notably showcased in the Thanksgiving episode in which she wore a transgender flag pin.

“Thanksgiving is a holiday that is all about family,” she wrote on Twitter. “And that can be hard for anybody who has been ostracized or otherwise cut off from their family… a group which, sadly, still includes a disproportionately high number of trans people, especially trans youth and trans people of color.”

Acknowledging the cultural importance of trans representation, she realizes she is making a difference on a national scale. She’s been touched by the responses received from parents and grandparents of trans people who were concerned that their children or grandchildren would face limitations because of their identity.

“This is an opportunity to make a positive impact just by being myself,” she said. “Just by being visible and being successful in a way that no particular trans person has succeeded at before and showing people that it’s possible.”

Following a two-week pause due to the Professors Tournament, Schneider returns to “Jeopardy!” Monday. She couldn’t reveal details of her future timeline but says she would like to use her current winnings to travel with her girlfriend.

“We have a friend in Ireland so that will probably be our first trip,” she said. “Otherwise, the plan is to set most of it aside for an eventual mortgage.”

Most importantly, she is simply embracing the joy of walking in her truth at last.

“Had this happened earlier in my life, before I came out, it would have been a real loss,” she said. “What people would have seen just wouldn’t have been me, which is something I would have regretted.”

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HOW TO WATCH

What: Jeopardy!

When: 7:30 p.m. weeknights

Where: WDTN - Channel 2

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