Amy Schneider had a strange feeling about that day.
It was Nov. 9, and in the first “Jeopardy!” game of the morning, she had surpassed Matt Amodio’s 38-game streak, putting her in second place for the most consecutive wins in the show’s history. She won the next game handily.
But she had reached her goal of beating Amodio, and her next major target — surpassing Ken Jennings’s 74-game record — was far away.
“The fatigue of this taping was really starting to add up,” she said in an interview on Wednesday. “I couldn’t explain it, even to myself, but I just could feel that something was slipping a little bit, however much I tried to fight it.”
Schneider’s gut feeling was correct (as it tends to be). After a dazzling 40-game streak, during which she became the first woman to surpass $1 million in regular-season winnings and then the runner-up to Jennings for most consecutive games won, Schneider ended her reign during Wednesday’s game. She was beaten by Rhone Talsma, who won during Final Jeopardy.
When Schneider met Talsma, a librarian from Chicago wearing neon yellow glasses, her strange feeling about that day intensified. Jennings, who competed in 2004 and now hosts the show on and off, had told her that the person who defeated him came off as friendly and thoroughly unintimidated by him.
“That was definitely true of Rhone,” Schneider said.
If Talsma seemed unintimidated, he said on Wednesday, it was because he had already accepted defeat.
Read More About ‘Jeopardy!’
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- Hosting Duo: Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik are sharing the role this season, putting an end to the speculation around the job — for now.
- A Rattled TV Institution: Replacing the late Alex Trebek has been an ongoing saga for the show. Here’s how the messy succession unfolded.
The game was going well for Schneider, but Talsma had noticed that she tended to start with the lower value clues first, so he went for higher value ones first. Then, during Double Jeopardy, Talsma had landed on a Daily Double, giving him a boost.
“I kind of felt like a puppy biting at her ankles the whole time,” Talsma said.
Schneider was accustomed to going into Final Jeopardy with her victory already secured. That was not the case this time. Talsma went in with $17,600, and Schneider was just $10,000 ahead of him.
The Final Jeopardy category: Countries of the World. Schneider felt confident about the category, and so did Talsma (geography is his “bread and butter,” he said, and he has childhood memories of studying an Atlas for fun).
The clue: The only nation in the world whose name in English ends in an “H,” it’s also one of the 10 most populous.
In the 30 seconds that the contestants are given to think and write down their responses, Schneider hopped from country to country on a map in her mind. India, no; Pakistan, no; Nepal, no.
“It just wasn’t coming to me,” Schneider said.
Talsma was traveling around a map in his own head, but it wasn’t until the last 10 seconds that he came upon his response: “What is Bangladesh?”
He was correct, but Schneider didn’t write down a response. When she realized that her life-altering streak was over, she felt a mix of emotions: disappointment, of course, but also some relief that she wouldn’t have to keep coming up with amusing anecdotes for the segment after the first commercial break.
“Playing ‘Jeopardy!’ has been the most fun I’ve ever had, and I didn’t want it to end,” she said. “I knew it would sometime, but it was tough to realize that the moment was finally there.”
An engineering manager who lives in Oakland, Calif., Schneider, 42, has known the outcome of her run for more than two months. During that time, she rode the wave of a newly minted game-show celebrity, watching as the world was introduced to her prodigious intellect and, gradually, people started recognizing her on the street.
She freely shared insights into her life (she has a girlfriend named Genevieve and a cat named Meep), stories about her childhood (in eighth grade she was voted most likely to compete on “Jeopardy!”) and shared her secret to success (a lifetime of curiosity). As a transgender woman, she was forced to deal with bigotry online, to which she responded cleverly, but she also got the opportunity to receive heaps of encouraging, affirming comments, including from transgender viewers who were thrilled by her success.
As her streak stretched on, her stats added up to something stunning. According to the show’s numbers for her 40 winning games, of the clues she answered, she was right 95 percent of the time and gave the correct responses for the Daily Double 87 percent of the time.
Because her streak had come so soon after that of Amodio, who lost in October, it prompted hypothesizing among fans of the show and members of the production team about why “Jeopardy!” was seeing an unusual number of streaks. The show’s executive producer, Michael Davies, shared several possible explanations, including the ever-expanding online archive of study materials and a new entrance exam that contestants could take anytime, instead of during particular windows.
Her success also came when the long-running game show was in the middle of a rocky transition after the death of its beloved host, Alex Trebek, in 2020. After one failed appointment, the show has yet to name a permanent successor, switching off between Jennings and the sitcom star Mayim Bialik.
Schneider’s life as a star game show contestant could be grueling. She would fly in from Oakland at the beginning of each week and would tape a whole week of “Jeopardy!” — five episodes — each day. When she would return to her hotel, she said, she would just sit and do nothing for an hour or so to give her brain a break.
So when she failed to come up with Bangladesh, that was part of the relief she felt: She could finally get back to normal life, hanging out with her girlfriend and her cat. Now with $1.4 million in winnings.