Amy Schneider and the art of keeping a “jeopardy!” Secret of the winning streak

On the evening of November 17, 2021, Amy Schneider was just another Peril! contestant performing a sacred ritual for those who make it through the Olympics trivia: hosting a watch party with a small group of friends while her episode airs — and her small-screen debut.

In a Bay Area Airbnb rented for the auspicious occasion, Schneider observed that she and designer Max McDonald were introduced as challengers to five-day champion Andrew He, a dominant gamer who had already clinched his ticket. for the Tournament of Champions. She watched as she found the game’s second Daily Double to explode past He, then as he tracked down the last Daily Double to add a devastating $10,800 to his score. And she gritted her teeth with her friends as she entered Final Jeopardy! behind He by over $7,000… only to be the only player to get the answer right, officially making it a Peril! champion. “I was trying to be pretty deadpan,” Schneider says. “It was such a dramatic finish on that one, so I wanted to make sure I kept the surprise for them when I won at the end.”

Schneider knew, of course, what most people in the room didn’t know: that she had not only won that game, but that she would win at least 38 more, not to mention $1,319,800. With her 39th victory on Monday night, she is now the holder of the second-longest winning streak in Peril! history, behind only 74-time champion Ken Jennings. She moved into second place by overtaking Matt Amodio, who ended his 38-win streak in October in what became the show’s season of electrifying streaks.

Schneider is the last Peril! champion to have her life profoundly changed by the series – only to have to keep the news a secret for an extended period of time. Because the show is not broadcast live…Peril! records one week of games on each of the 46 tape days spread throughout the year – most gamers have to wait around two months between recording their game and streaming it. The show asks players to tell as few people as possible what will happen in the meantime.

“The rule of thumb they gave us was that whoever would have been on the taping had they allowed an audience” was safe to say, Schneider says. (Peril! has kept his audience closed to the public since early 2020.) For Schneider, who actually won his first match on Sept. 28, that meant keeping his success quiet outside of a group that included his girlfriend and a small handful of others. .

She’s far from the first player to balance secrecy and headline-worthy cash. Peril!The most decorated champions all have stories about the time before their fortunes became famous. “My partner talked to her mum a bit about it and I was like, ‘OK, it’s good that she knows I’m going to be, but you can not tell him something else,” says Jonathan Fisher, who beat Amodio on a taping in early September and then went on his own 11-fight winning streak, collecting $246,100 along the way. Beyond that, Fisher says he only told his parents and his partner, whom he says he called as soon as he left the studio on the first day. “I said, ‘I beat him! I beat him! – and then I won four more games!””

Cue a full month of waiting for his first episode to air, as Amodio’s winning streak drew more and more attention. “It’s this liminal space where the past is the present and also the future,” Fisher says of finally giving interviews about winning his first game, in which he was to talk about the as yet unaired episode of the next day – recorded, like the first, a month earlier. “It’s like, OK, how do I make sure Sony Pictures doesn’t get mad at me and take my big check away? That’s definitely a good motivator.

Austin Rogers, who won 12 games and $411,000 in 2017, describes the Peril! politics for champions like “we can’t stop you messing it up, but don’t.” About the argument for staying mum, he says the show promises to “paint it in this awesome way. You want this surprise to happen for everyone. You want it to be fun for everyone. So don’t spoil it.

For the champions who have made not only a lot of money, but also a sum of money maybe-quitting-your-job, maybe-starting-a-new-life-on-a-tropical-island, the secret can be difficult to keep. Rogers says that, like Schneider, he hosted watch parties for his games. “The snowball effect was real,” he says. “The first, three or four friends came. The second, five or six friends came. On the ninth, the bar was packed.

And with a big party comes, well, the occasional drunkenness. “Eventually, with some very close friends and family, somewhere around three in the morning after a few drinks, I was like, ‘So here we go, guys, here’s where I am,'” said Rogers. said, articulating his words for dramatic effect.

For most contestants, checks arrive approximately 90 days after their last match aired. It can create its own weird moments. “I remember going to the bank and depositing the check,” says Larissa Kelly, a four-time contestant who was on the 2019 All-Star Games winning team and originally won six games and $222,597 in 2008 while she was completing her thesis. “The cashier was a little surprised, with me coming in dressed like a schlubby grad student with a huge check. They were like, ‘Is this a scam?’ “She was saved by a second cashier who happened to be a Peril! fan. “She was like, ‘No, it’s legit, it’s okay.'”

For players like Schneider, whose streaks required repeated trips to Los Angeles for recording, the secrecy of an ongoing streak is all the more difficult to preserve. Jennings, for his part, was forced to lend a hand to his boss, who showered him with a series of excuses about sudden conflicts and illnesses, to the point that Jennings felt like he had a secret identity.

“Lying to everyone I know for months also has a psychological impact,” Jennings wrote in her 2006 memoir, Brainiac. “The secret is starting to make me feel a bit schizophrenic. A few days a month, I’m the record-breaking Ken Jennings of game shows, whose ever-increasing daily win totals start to look like a life-changing sum of money. But no one knows him yet. I still have to come home and be Ken Jennings the boring suburban dad, on his same old mundane treadmill from an office job, pretending nothing happened.

Schneider is introduced in each of her games as “an engineering manager from Oakland, California”. But this, in fact, is a lie – or at least became one early in his winning streak. “Actually, after a while, I stopped being a manager just because [Jeopardy!] was taking up so much of my time that I couldn’t give my team the attention they needed,” she says. She now holds a different position in the company that does not involve managing direct reports.

Schneider embarked on a routine of flying to Los Angeles on Sunday evening, then flying home on Tuesday evening, then trying to cram a full week of work into the next three days. “It’s funny because my boss and the VP, who are the two people who really knew I was running out of time, neither of them really looks Peril! and I had no real idea what it meant that I had to keep going down,” she says. “I had to let them know that in a shocking development in the modern world, I was actually not going to have access to my phone during check-in days.”

Due to concerns about a writers’ strike the year he appeared on the show, Rogers actually taped his first nine games in April, five months before his debut aired. That meant he had to return to defend the streak in August. For friends familiar with his original recording, the return to LA raised eyebrows. “’You’re leaving means you’ve won.’ I was like, ‘Uh-huh,'” Rogers says of those exchanges. “‘How much?’ I’m like, ‘I can’t tell you.’ They’re like, ‘How much?’ I’m like, ‘I can’t tell you.’ »

“It’s like Schrödinger Peril!“, says Fisher. “It happened, but it hasn’t happened yet.”

Finally, however, Peril!Reality begins to catch up with real reality. Rogers brought a quartet of friends to the studio with him when he returned to play his 10th game. Although the contestants are given strict instructions not to interact with the audience during the game, Rogers had no trouble figuring out where his friends were while Johnny Gilbert read his intro: a bartender from New York, New York, whose nine-day cash earnings total $332,400. “I heard a gasp followed by ‘Get the hell out of here!'” Rogers said.

For Schneider, the first glimpse of what was to come came as she went to this Airbnb to watch her first game. She had set up a Peril!-specific Twitter account—@Jeopardami— before the broadcast, and uploaded a photo of her on set. As she headed to her watch party, Peril! began airing on the East Coast, giving audiences their first glimpse of the person who would quickly become the show’s resident champion.

“I had to stop and turn off notifications on Twitter because it was covering up my browsing. It was just…” She trails off, searching for the right word. “Amazing.”

With his streak ongoing and his gains getting bigger and bigger, Schneider is starting to consider a post-Peril! life – whenever it might happen. She needs to lose, after all, to get her check.

“Like so many people during COVID, I had started thinking about – is this what I want to do with my life?” she says. “I felt like, well, that sounds good, but I really like financial security. But now that I have this anyway, I’m really thinking about it.

About Oscar L. Smith

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