She'll take Breaking Barriers for $2,000, please.
When Amy Schneider ended her 40-game run as "Jeopardy!" champion Wednesday night, she had achieved the television show's second-longest win streak — the longest for a woman — and won more than $1.3 million.
But the California-based engineering manager also scored a different type of victory. Early in her run, she became a face and a voice for those who identify as transgender. With every "first" she achieved — the first trans woman to earn more than $1 million, to qualify for the show's Tournament of Champions, to win as many games as she won — Schneider took another step forward and broke another boundary.
She did all that without much fanfare, with humility and a wry sense of humor, just a talented, smart woman who knew an awful lot about a wide range of topics, someone we got to know through brief snippets of personal stories for a minute or two each night.
"Jeopardy!" has had a rocky road since the death of longtime host Alex Trebek last year, including the announcement of a new host who quickly resigned after a series of discriminatory comments he had made came to light. If we're being cynical, we could see the casting of Schneider as a contestant as a savvy business move to bring a stream of good publicity.
But no one could have predicted Schneider's run, the place she would take in our living rooms over the last two months, or the impact she still could have.
Of course, it's just a game show. And she's just a game-show winner. Her success doesn't change the deep, bruising physical and emotional pain trans men and women experience across the country day after day. It doesn't change the scores of discriminatory bills percolating in dozens of states that could limit trans men and women's ability to compete in sports or use a bathroom or receive medical care. It doesn't change the ongoing horrific violence, disproportionately affecting Black trans women — the Human Rights Campaign reported that 2021 was the deadliest year on record for individuals who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming.
And it doesn't change the backlash Schneider herself received.
But in an essay Schneider penned after she lost, she noted that she had worried she'd be rejected, or seen as "a freak, a pervert, a man in a dress, a liar, mentally ill." Instead, she said, the vast majority of those who have reached out have been supportive.
And perhaps among the millions of viewers who watched Schneider's run or read the news reports were those looking for ways to speak with their families and friends about their identity. Perhaps Schneider's fame gave them a way into those conversations. Perhaps it led to an understanding, to an embrace.
Schneider's success and the millions of people who rooted for her are far bigger than any successful Final Jeopardy wager.
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