'Jeopardy!' Champ Amy Schneider Explains How She Became 'So Smart'

With her Jeopardy! winning streak now hitting a phenomenal 14 games, Amy Schneider has answered a question that she's been asked a number of times since her debut on the show: "How are you so smart?"

The California-based engineering manager has become one of the show's standout stars since her November arrival, becoming the first transgender woman to qualify for the Tournament of Champions and breaking a number of other records.

And in an essay for Defector, titled "How I Got Smart," the engineering manager sought to answer the oft-uttered enquiry about how she came to be so intelligent, sharing a number of factors that have led to her ability to retain obscure snippets of information.

"One is to attribute my intelligence to factors outside of my control," Schneider wrote. "With this approach, I'll generally observe that I was born with a brain that, for whatever reason, retains knowledge well.

"I don't have a 'photographic' memory or anything like that; God knows I've spent enough time hunting my apartment for my phone to disprove that idea.

"But while many people, upon learning that, for example, "oviparous" is an adjective meaning "egg-laying," will quite sensibly forget it almost immediately, I will probably remember it, and without any particular effort."

Schneider also touched upon the "privilege" of presenting as a man until she was well into adulthood, growing up comfortable and being white, factors that she believes allowed her thirst for knowledge to thrive.

"Unlike most people in history, I wasn't born into grinding poverty, and my parents believed in the value of knowledge as its own reward," she said. "Moreover, I am white, and until well into adulthood, was perceived as male. Had that not been the case, my intelligence would have been seen as surprising at best, and threatening at worst, which undoubtedly would have impacted my intellectual development.

"But it was the case, and I was never discouraged from acquiring knowledge. (Well, almost never; I was strongly discouraged from acquiring any knowledge whatsoever about human sexuality, with ... mixed results.)"

"Jeopardy!" Champ Amy Schneider
"Jeopardy!" champ Amy Schenider has penned an essay called "Hot I Got Smart," in answer to a question that she says she has been asked all the more since competing on the show. Jeopardy!/YouTube;/Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

Schneider admitted in the essay that her initial reaction to being deemed "smart" would be to dispute the notion, explaining that there are "many types of intelligence."

She wrote: "After all, being able to do things like name all the monarchs from the House of Stuart is a pretty narrow definition of 'smart,' don't you think? There are many types of intelligence, and the one I have is far from the most useful."

Ultimately, the University of Dayton graduate shared, it's seeing each otherwise "bare" or perceivably uninteresting fact as part of a larger tapestry of information that can help to push one's breadth of knowledge into another realm.

"[Any] of these threads will lead in their turn to an ever increasing array of further threads, and following those threads is a richly rewarding experience, and one that will not just make you better at Jeopardy!, but better at living in society," the Ohio native said.

She went on: "At understanding what is going on around you, and why, and what might happen next, and how you might prepare for it. It will make it harder for you to be scammed; it's no coincidence that right-wing talk show hosts will promote anti-intellectualism during their shows, and bulls*** prepper kits and reverse mortgage scams.

"If your knowledge is limited, then you're an easy mark for people who wish you harm. Knowledge is a shield and a sword, a joy and a duty, and while you may never remember things quite as easily as I do, or win a bunch of games on Jeopardy!, if you have the desire, not just to know but to understand, then you will grow more and more powerful every day, and nobody will be able to stop you."

On Monday night's episode of Jeopardy! Schneider was seen returning to the show, following a two-week break for the Professors Tournament.

She earned her 14th consecutive win, placing her seventh on the list of all-time champs in the Jeopardy! contestant hall of fame, and boosted her cash prize to $571,200, making her the fourth-highest earner in regular season play.

Ken Jennings and Amy Schneider
Amy Schneider poses with all-time "Jeopardy!" champ Ken Jennings, who is currently hosting the show. The two both studied computer science at unversity. Courtesy Jeopardy Productions, Inc

Editor's pick

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts