Amy Schneider, an engineering manager from Oakland, California, closed out Jeopardy!’s second-longest consecutive win streak (40 games) on Wednesday, with $1,382,800 in winnings—making her the quiz show’s top female earner and also the first transgender contestant to compete in Tournament of Champions (a competition among Jeopardy!’s top 15 earners from that season). Schneider’s history-making run put her in the ranks of all-time Jeopardy! great Ken Jennings, who is currently serving as guest host. It also launched Schneider headfirst into a space that, for a long time, made her uncomfortable: the spotlight. She found confidence behind the buzzer with help from a sartorial good luck charm; her “pearls of wisdom” necklace.

clothes of our lives

In ELLE’s series Clothes of Our Lives, we decode the sartorial choices made by powerful women, and explore how fashion can be used as a tool for communication. Below in her own words, Schneider tells us why the string of pearls she wore to each taping gave her “so much confidence.”


Since transitioning, I’ve always worried about my appearance. How do I look? Am I reading as feminine? What are people thinking? Being on Jeopardy! put all those fears to rest. I was thrown into the deep end, like, “Sure, let’s put your face on national television and see what happens.”

You might have noticed that I wore a pearl necklace during each episode. It was a birthday gift from my girlfriend Genevieve. We met in the summer of 2020 through a friend of mine, who was dating her brother at the time. Genevieve wound up at my place one day, where I gave her a Tarot reading. I don’t remember the specifics, but it must have been a good reading because we really hit it off. We were friends for quite a while, but eventually realized we both wanted more.

Genevieve has always been told that every lady needs a string of pearls. My initial reaction when she gave me mine was: “Oh, I don’t know if that’s my style.” It wasn’t a piece of jewelry I’d ever considered before, maybe I associate it with Marge Simpson or something. But when I tried the necklace on, it looked great. It can be casual or formal, and it goes with whatever. It’s really an all purpose accessory.

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Most of my life has been spent with my nose pressed up against the glass, looking at dresses and shoes and jewelry I felt unable to wear. When I transitioned and was finally able to let loose, I gravitated to prettier, fancier things. It’s just so much fun. I love laying in bed in the morning before work and planning out my whole outfit in my head.

When I started thinking about what I’d wear on Jeopardy! (and this is thanks to years of therapy) I decided to dress for myself. Historically, people have tended to like me most when I’m myself—and even when they don’t, I’ve learned to be okay with it. Just as long as I’m not being artificial.

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The show had two requirements when it came to clothes. One was that I needed to have long sleeves to cover up a tattoo on my arm. The other was that whatever I wore had to have a place to hang a microphone. That was a challenge, because I almost exclusively wear dresses. A dress, unless it is belted, doesn’t have a place to clip a microphone. So I had to go out and buy a bunch of new stuff. I went to Nordstrom Rack and, in a daze, picked out some things I felt would look all right.

The morning of my first Jeopardy! taping, I put on a playlist called “Victory Morning” that has “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, plus a bunch of Lizzo songs and some Cardi B. Genevieve wasn’t able to come with me, and it was the first time we’d been apart since we started dating. I wanted to have something on that reminded me of her, so I put on the pearls. Then, I gave myself a pep talk in the mirror like, “You’re great at this! You’re going to do great!” The next taping, I decided to wear the pearls again. Once I started, I wanted to keep it going. I was like, “Oh, I mean, I guess that can just be my thing? Maybe it’ll be something that people respond to.”

I’d been trying out for the show for years, and was always confident that one day it would happen. I was also confident that when I got on, I would do all right. What I always said was: “I’ll do my best, but you never know if you’re going to run into a Ken Jennings, or a James Holzhauer.” I never imagined I would get to that level. James is still way ahead of me in terms of the amount of money, but I surpassed him in number of games.

In order to achieve what I did, I had to keep every thought out of my mind other than what the answer to the next question was. I didn’t allow myself to think too much about being the show’s first trans contestant to qualify for Tournament of Champions or becoming its highest earning female player. I was aware, of course, but I didn’t let it distract me from success.

Genevieve had never really seen Jeopardy! before meeting me, but she’s certainly a fan now. We pour a glass of wine and watch every night. Seeing myself on television wearing pearls has given me so much confidence. I’m able to feel good about how I look and present myself in a way that I never did before—in a way I honestly wasn’t sure I would ever would be able to.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.