'Jeopardy!' Champion Amy Schneider on Being Her True Self: 'I Showed Myself as I Am'

"I'm so glad I didn't present an idealized version of myself," says Amy Schneider, one of PEOPLE's Women Changing the World in 2022

Amy Schneider is opening up about the importance of authenticity.

Before she became Jeopardy!'s most-winning woman and the first transgender contestant to qualify for the Tournament of Champions, the Oakland-based former engineering manager, one of PEOPLE's Women Changing the World in 2022, spent more than a decade auditioning to be a contestant.

"I do think part of the reason I finally did get selected was that I had transitioned, and I was living my real identity," Schneider, 42, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "Looking back, I realized that I was hiding so much of myself. I was a very closed-off person before that."

Still, when Schneider was finally selected, she made a last-minute decision. "I had a plan to feminize my voice more," she recalls. "But I thought, 'If I focus on being myself, I know I'll feel better, regardless of the reaction.' "

Almost immediately after her first episode aired, messages from the LGBTQ+ community began pouring in. "Somebody said their grandfather was using the right pronouns for a trans person for the first time ever," she says. "That made me realize I was making people's lives better."

Amy Schneider
Amy Schneider. Chloe Aftel

Her history-making 40-game streak ended on Jan. 26, with nearly $1.4 million in prize money, which is the fourth-highest in competition history. For Schneider, who recently got engaged to girlfriend Genevieve on Feb. 24, the experience was every bit as valuable.

"I'm so glad I didn't present an idealized version of myself. If I had, it would've set a standard like, Oh, well, yeah, everybody likes Amy because she's ... whatever," she says. "It feels really good to say, 'No, that was just me.' "

Schneider will return for Jeopardy!'s Tournament of Champions this fall.

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