Jeopardy! champion Amy Schneider’s dazzling streak on the United States game show has come to an end, snapped on Wednesday by a Chicago librarian after 40 consecutive wins and nearly $1.4m in prize money.
Schneider’s success put her in the ranks of Ken Jennings, who is serving as guest host, and the quiz show’s other all-time greats. It made Schneider, who is a trans woman, a visible symbol of achievement for often-marginalised people.
“It’s still a little hard to believe,” Schneider said of her impressive run. “It’s something that I’m going to be remembered for, and that’s pretty great.”
New champ Rhone Talsma had the correct response to the final Jeopardy! clue for a winning total of $29,600. Schneider, who found herself in the unusual position of entering the last round short of a runaway, was second with $19,600.
Jeopardy! ranks as the most-watched syndicated programme in the US with an average of 9.4 million viewers this season – a substantial increase of 563,000 over the last season. The show averaged 11 million viewers for the week of January 10-17, according to Nielsen.
“I’m still in shock,” Talsma said in a statement. “I did not expect to be facing a 40-day champion, and I was excited to maybe see someone else slay the giant. I just really didn’t think it was going to be me, so I’m thrilled.”
Schneider told The Associated Press news agency that Talsma played well and did a “great job of taking the opportunities when they came up and putting himself position to be able to win”.
The answer that stumped Schneider was about countries of the world: the only nation whose name in English ends in an “h” and which is also one of the 10 most populous. (Cue the Jeopardy! music — and the response is, “What is Bangladesh?”)
Among her immediate reactions when the game and her streak ended: she was sad but also relieved that “I don’t have to come up with any more anecdotes”, the stories that contestants share during game breaks.
Contestants receive their winnings after their final game airs, and Schneider’s spending plans include clothes shopping and, especially, travel.
A Dayton, Ohio, native and engineering manager who lives in Oakland, California, Schneider’s regular-season play made her number two in consecutive games won, placing her between Jennings with 74 games and Matt Amodio, winner of 38 games in 2021.
Schneider’s prize total of $1,382,800 puts her in fourth place on the regular-season winnings list, behind Jennings ($2,520,700), James Holzhauer ($2,462,216) and Amodio ($1,518,601).
Schneider will be part of the show’s “Tournament of Champions”, and is the first trans person to qualify. She was braced for her streak to end, she told AP.
“I had a feeling my time was winding down, even though it didn’t look that way in the scores,” Schneider said. The routine of travelling to Los Angeles for tapings — five shows a day, two days a week — was tiring, and that took a toll.
After she surpassed Amodio’s tally of consecutive victories, she added, the prospect of trying to break Jennings’s longstanding record was “hard to imagine”.
Schneider’s depth of knowledge, lightning-fast answers and gracious but efficient manner won her a devoted fan base. Comedy writer Louis Virtel, a former Jeopardy! contestant, tweeted earlier this month that Schneider was like a “case worker assigned to each episode, and when she’s done, she picks up her briefcase, nods, and leaves”.
She was also admired for her handling of anti-trans trolls, with one measured reply prompting a shoutout to her from writer and Broadway actor Harvey Fierstein.
“The best outcome of all of this always is going to be whatever help I’ve been able to offer the trans community,” Schneider said. “I’m here because of the sacrifices countless trans people have made, often to the extent of risking their lives. To do my part to move that cause forward, it’s really special.”
Schneider has a message for Jeopardy! viewers who will miss making her part of their daily routine: “I realised that I am really just so sad for all my fans … I want to thank them for all their support and tell them that’s it’s OK.”
The streaks by Schneider and Amodio have helped ease Jeopardy! past the mishandled replacement of its admired host, the late Alex Trebek. Executive producer Mike Richards was picked by Sony Pictures Television to replace Trebek last year, but quickly exited the show after old podcasts surfaced that included his misogynistic and other demeaning comments.
A permanent host has yet to be named, with Mayim Bialik, who was named host of primetime Jeopardy! specials, and Jennings trading off this season. Jennings is also a consulting producer for the show.