Rainbow Rant: The sublime 'Jeopardy!' swan song of Amy Schneider

There’s something joyful in seeing the astonishing queer and trans game show contestant lose to another member of our community

Joy Ellison
"Jeopardy!" contestant Amy Schneider's 40-game winnings total $1,382,800.

For me, Amy Schneider’s historic “Jeopardy!” run ended in the best way possible. My adoration for her began, however, in the most typical way imaginable. 

Like so many, I began watching “Jeopardy!” as a child with my grandparents. The game show was the first phase of their iron-clad bedtime ritual. Whenever I stayed the night at their house, we watched the show. And I loved it even though I was too young to compete with my grandpa’s incredible memory. “Jeopardy!” was followed by "Wheel of Fortune," and then my grandmother wished us goodnight while standing in her pink bathrobe with her glasses off and dentures out. To me, the friendly bloop-bloop sound that accompanies the appearance of those blue squares is the sound of family.

After my grandparents died, my parents took up the tradition of watching “Jeopardy!” nightly. The game show has become a part of the glue that holds our family together. We’re as raucous as “Jeopardy!” watchers get. Call us nerds if you want to and we will answer. I have no shame over our embrace of the soothing predictability of “Jeopardy!” We’re hardly alone.

When Schneider, a trans woman who grew up in Dayton, Ohio, appeared on “Jeopardy!” and then proceeded to dominate the competition, my family was immediately entranced. 

Blessed with two trans children, my mother grasped the significance of the event unfolding before us. She resonated with the matter-of-fact way Schneider addressed her trans identity. Schneider told the media, “The fact is, I don't actually think about being trans all that often, and so when appearing on national television, I wanted to represent that part of my identity accurately: as important, but also relatively minor.” My mother gushed to me about how she would surely change minds.

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Remarkably, the media has followed Schneider’s lead and treated her trans identity as only one facet of her life. They’ve allowed her to be her charming self and we’ve been blessed with stories about Schneider’s cat, Meep, her gushy love for her girlfriend, her tattoos and her embrace of the sound of her relaxed voice. It’s a small media miracle.

All good things must eventually come to an end, but they don’t have to end as sublimely as Schneider’s “Jeopardy!” streak. After 39 victories and winnings totaling over $1,300,000, Schneider lost to a friend of mine, Rhone Talsma. 

I attended DePaul University alongside Talsma, a queer librarian who appeared on the show in yellow glasses that immediately got the viral recognition that his fashion has always deserved. In a piece of final “Jeopardy!” magic, he managed to defeat Schneider. The shocked and delighted look on his face is one I knew very well. 

There’s something joyful about seeing an astonishing queer and trans player like Amy Schneider lose to another member of our community. Too often, queer and trans people are pitted against each other, competing for a handful of jobs or the limited attention of mainstream audiences. It’s as though there’s only enough room in any space for one of us. It’s magical to see two queer, gender-fabulous geeks squaring off in a friendly competition. It gives me hope that there might be enough space for us all. 

Schneider said that she hopes nerdy trans girls are inspired by her performance. This nerdy, non-binary adult certainly was.