Chicagoan dethrones ‘Jeopardy!’ champ Amy Schneider

Rhone Talsma, a librarian in Chicago Ridge, wins $29,600 to break Schneider’s 40-game winning streak.

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Chicago Ridge librarian Rhone Talsma defeated long-running “Jeopardy!’ champion Amy Schneider on Wednesday.

Chicago Ridge librarian Rhone Talsma defeated long-running “Jeopardy!’ champion Amy Schneider on Wednesday.

Jeopardy Productions

“Jeopardy!” has a new champion.

And he’s Chicago’s very own.

Rhone Talsma, whose victory on “Jeopardy!” Wednesday broke the 40-game streak of the seemingly invincible Amy Schneider, has called Chicago home for the past 11 years.

Talsma, a multimedia librarian at the Chicago Ridge Public Library, racked up $29,600 on Wednesday’s episode to top Schneider’s $19,600.

The 31-year-old Talsma, who grew up in south suburban Plainfield, graduated from Plainfield Central High School and DePaul University, and completed his Master of Library & Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said being a contestant on “Jeopardy!” is “living out his dream come true.” Beating Schneider is almost surreal.

Chicago Ridge librarian Rhone Talsma defeated long-running “Jeopardy!’ champion Amy Schneider on Wednesday.

Chicago Ridge librarian Rhone Talsma defeated long-running “Jeopardy!’ champion Amy Schneider on Wednesday.

Jeopardy Productions

When Talsma arrived on the game show’s set for his first day of taping in early November, Schneider was the first person he met, he said, and he learned later she had won 38 games at that point.

“I was very thrilled to find out that a woman had been doing so well on ‘Jeopardy!’ and setting records,” Talsma said when reached by phone Wednesday. “So I wasn’t that intimidated by Amy having won so many games. ... I wasn’t on there to win. I was just on there hopefully for people to like my personality and do the best I could. … So in a way I was just able to let go and have fun and do my best. Because in my head I was like, ‘OK, I’m gonna get crushed. [Laughs] We’re all gonna get crushed. But it’s gonna be fun.’ ”

Schneider goes into the record books with the second-longest consecutive win streak in show history. In first place with 74 games is Ken Jennings, who is now the daytime “Jeopardy!” host and was there to watch Schneider approach his record.

It’s not the first time a Chicago librarian has defeated a long-reigning “Jeopardy!” champion. In 2019, University of Chicago librarian Emma Boettcher ended the 32-game winning streak of Naperville native James Holzhauer.

On Wednesday’s show, Talsma didn’t clinch his win until Final Jeopardy, which he entered trailing Schneider by $10,000. 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.”

Amy Schneider leaves “Jeopardy!” with $1,382,800 in winnings.

Amy Schneider leaves “Jeopardy!” with $1,382,800 in winnings.

Jeopardy Productions

Talsma wagered $12,000 on the final clue, and his correct answer of “Bangladesh” brought his total winnings to $29,600 — just $2,000 ahead of Schneider for the moment.

Schneider, however, provided no response as the gameplay turned to her. With a wager of $8,000, her total cash winnings for the day dropped to $19,600, resulting in a victory for Talsma.

While Schneider didn’t directly impart any helpful tips about how to play the game, Talsma said he recalled a tip she mentioned on a prior episode about working the buzzer.

“Someone manually indicates when the clue is done being read. It’s not automated in any way,” Talsma said. “There’s a person back there who’s listening to Ken, and once Ken utters the last syllable of the clue, that person hits a button and these LED lights that line the board light up. When you see those lights up on the board you can start buzzing in. [if you buzz in early you’re locked out for quarter of a second, an eternity on ‘Jeopardy!’] Some people wait for the lights, and that ended up being my strategy. Amy’s strategy was to wait until it sounded like Ken was done reading and then buzz in. Obviously it was a successful strategy for her.”


New “Jeopardy!” champ Rhone Talsma (right) stands with host Ken Jennings.

Jeopardy Productions

Talsma’s career began with Chicago Public Libraries where, as a subcontractor, he would help mostly older adults and others with limited digital literacy skills learn how to use computers and navigate cyberspace. His current job as a multimedia librarian with the Chicago Ridge Public Library encompasses those duties and more. “I always say public librarianship is like a kitchen-sink kid of job. Other duties that come up really stretch what you do in this kind of work. It’s perfect job for me because every day is different.”

Did his job setting help him prepare for “Jeopardy!”?

“I’m not the most regimented or organized person, so my approach to studying is to watch the show every day and play along every day. As you do that, some things come up repeatedly, so you start to memorize those things even if you don’t know the material. Likewise, working at a public library I am a generalist by trade. I don’t have expertise in a lot of areas but I know a little bit about a lot of subjects. I definitely think that’s advantageous in a trivia game where anything can come up. People come into the library and ask me questions all the time so I learn something new all the time. So I’ve been studying for ‘Jeopardy!’ for a really long time, only I didn’t realize I was studying.”

In the month between getting the call that he was selected as a contestant and flying out to Los Angeles for the tapings, Talsma said he disregarded studying the subjects where he knew nothing, which included sports and movies. “I don’t have the attention span for movies. I can’t watch anything longer than 30 minutes. That’s why ‘Jeopardy!’ is perfect. And literature. I read a lot, a lot of articles and non-fiction, but I don’t read a lot of novels, or classic literature.” He considers geography among his strongest subjects.

As for his winnings (Talsma could not reveal how long he will be featured on the show, nor the total amount of cash), Talsma said, “Pandemic pending, [he and his partner Isaac Garcia] plan to travel across Europe this summer. I’ve never been outside the U.S.”

Schneider leaves with $1,382,800, which puts her behind Jennings, Naperville’s James Holzhauer and Matt Amodio on the all-time, regular-season cash winnings list.

Contributing: Darel Jevens

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