Amy Schneider’s historic 40-game winning streak on “Jeopardy!” came to an end Wednesday, and it was a Chicagoan who bested her: McKinley Park resident and multimedia librarian Rhone Talsma, who finished in first place with a score of $29,600. Schneider finished second with $19,600.
Talsma works at the Chicago Ridge Public Library and said that being a professional librarian does provide something of an edge.
“It is literally in my job description to find answers to any question directed to me at the reference desk,” he told the Tribune Wednesday. “Sitting at the desk for eight hours a day, I’m almost guaranteed to learn something new thanks to a question from one of our patrons. Librarians have a reputation for being strong ‘Jeopardy!’ contestants because we are generalists by nature, and while I don’t have deep expertise in many areas, I do know a little bit about a lot of subjects, which lends itself well to the format and clues featured on ‘Jeopardy!’”
In a statement provided by the show, Schneider had this to say: “I had thought that Rhone was going to be tough going into it. I loved hanging out with him, we had a great conversation before the taping, but I could tell that he was here to play and that he was going to be good. I still came very close to winning, but I did feel like maybe I was slipping a little bit. And once it was clear that he was fast on the buzzer, I knew it was going to be a battle all the way.”
Heading into Final Jeopardy, Schneider led with a score of $27,600, while Talsma had $17,600. The clue was “the only nation in the world whose name in English ends in an H, it’s also one of the 10 most populous.” The correct response: “What is Bangladesh?”
Only all-time record holder Ken Jennings has had more consecutive wins than Schneider, with his 74 wins in 2004 to her 40. Her total winnings are $1,382,800, and she will return for the Tournament of Champions this fall.
Talsma, who faces off against two new challengers Thursday, said he is a longtime fan of the show. “I remember watching Ken Jennings’ winning streak when I was 11 years old and being amazed at how much he knew. I’ve always just really enjoyed trivia, especially in subjects like geography and history. I’m also very competitive and usually perform well under pressure, so I figured with enough prep I wouldn’t be half bad if I got on the show.
“I started taking the online test about five years ago, and this was my first time actually getting to audition. Once I realized I had been cast, I only had about a month to study, so I dedicated some time to studying areas that I didn’t feel that confident in — mostly Shakespeare and cinema. I feel like the best way to study for ‘Jeopardy!’ is just to watch the show every day and pay attention to what subjects come up a lot and how the clues are worded.”
As for being the person who ended Schneider’s run? “I am, first and foremost, incredibly proud of myself,” he said. “Getting on the show was in itself a huge accomplishment, and I had no expectation of winning, especially once I found out I was going against a record-setting champion.”
But also: “As a huge fan of the show, once I realized Amy’s significance in ‘Jeopardy!’ history, I felt incredibly humbled to play against her, let alone be the one to bring her streak to an end. I intensely admire Amy. Her breadth and depth of knowledge is just unreal, and she is a kind, good humored, confident-yet-humble person. Basically, she embodies all the traits I strive for in myself! I really see her as a role model, and so getting to play a role — especially this role — in her ‘Jeopardy!’ story is beyond anything I could have imagined when I found out I was cast.
“There is the lingering nervousness around how I’ll be received by fans. Amy is enormously popular, and I know that I’ll likely be compared to Amy now, probably in an unflattering way. I know that many will comment on how luck played a role in my win, but one thing I learned from being on the show is that luck is a much bigger determining factor in anyone’s ‘Jeopardy!’ success than people realize. When you’re as dominant as Amy you can mitigate the impact of random chance and go on a streak, but even Amy came from behind against a strong champion on her first win, just like I did.
“The wind was at my back that day, and I’m just incredibly grateful — and lucky, no doubt about that.”
Nina Metz is a Tribune critic
What to eat. What to watch. What you need to live your best life … now. Sign up for our Eat. Watch. Do. newsletter here.