The Sunday Magazine20:10Jeopardy! champ Amy Schneider on culture wars, activism, and her sudden rise to fame
Amy Schneider admits her ability to recall seemingly random things on command, is, on its own, not entirely practical.
Surely, the Jeopardy! champion is smart. In 2022, Schneider soared to fame after winning 40 consecutive games — a winning streak that puts her second only to contestant-turned-host Ken Jennings. The author and trans advocate walked away with nearly $1.4 million US in prize money, and a ton of notoriety.
But what makes someone smart or intelligent, it turns out, isn’t so clear cut.
In her new book, In the Form of a Question: The Joys and Rewards of a Curious Lifethe native of Dayton, Ohio, writes, “There are many types of intelligence, and the one I have is hardly the most useful.”
It is, however, the kind of intelligence that Jeopardy! celebrates and that people most quickly recognize, Schneider said in an interview on The Sunday Magazine.
Clearly, people value the kind of intelligence displayed on Jeopardy!. The show has run for more than 40 seasons and, according to Entertainment Weeklythe game show was bringing in 9.7 million viewers per episode when Schneider was in the midst of her winning run.
“It just kind of bums me out when I talk to people, because it’s so often that they will say something like, ‘Oh, I could never be a smart as you,'” she said.
“Being able to answer trivia questions is not that useful in daily life outside of an artificial quiz show.”
Different kinds of intelligence
There’s a lot more to being smart.
According to London, Ont., neuroscientist Adrian Owen, intelligence can be separated into two categories he calls crystallized and fluid.
The professor at Western University’s Brain and Mind Institute says crystallized intelligence refers to someone’s knowledge of the world. Meanwhile, fluid intelligence is more difficult to measure and concerns a person’s ability to solve problems, practice logic and understand abstract ideas.
“For me, fluid intelligence is actually a much more important human trait, and much more important in whether people get ahead or not in life,” said Owen.
The researcher’s forthcoming book, Thinking On Your Feet, is all about what makes people smart.
The problem is that it’s harder to quantify someone’s fluid intelligence, unless you consider their achievements.
“When you look at people who are very successful in life, who run businesses and who can keep a lot of balls in the air at the same time, they tend to be people that don’t necessarily have a vast knowledge of the world,” said Owen.
“They are clear thinkers. They can think on their feet. They can think critically. They can solve problems. They can reason.”
Practical smarts vs. zombie food
Longtime trivia enthusiast and author Paul Paquet has built a career on facts.
The Ottawa resident has written tens of thousands of trivia questions over the years, for everything from board game Trivial Pursuit to game shows to online trivia sites, turning a passion for arcane knowledge into a profession and a pastime.
Paquet also hosts trivia events five nights a week at bars around the city, and he’s the trivia master behind the annual World Trivia Night, a best-of-the-best fundraising event in Ottawa that draws huge crowds.
Currently, Paquet is competing as the lone Canadian at the International Quizzing Championships in Torremolinos, Spain, where he expects to get “smoked” by the competition.
“If I’m in a room in Ottawa, odds are I’m going to win. But the best in the world? Not so much,” he said.
Nonetheless, by most standards, Paquet is very smart. But he admits he has certain limitations.
“My ability to do any sort of household repair is embarrassingly negative,” he said.
“I joke sometimes that in the apocalypse, there’s going to be the people you need to rebuild society and the zombie food — and I’m pretty sure I’m going to be zombie food.”
While Owen believes fluid intelligence just isn’t as visible to people, Paquet believes it just doesn’t hold the same value in society.
“The fact that the kind of knowledge I have is elevated over the knowledge of the person I have to call into my house to fix the thing that I wrecked, I think it’s a reflection of class prejudice in a way,” he said.
Paquet adds that affluent people are more likely to have the time and opportunity to learn about the world.
For Schneider, learning has been an important part of her life. Remembering what she learns is “a lucky roll of the genetic dice,” she writes in her book. She also credits her privilege and her desire for understanding.
“When people ask how I know all this stuff, it’s because I find it interesting. It’s because I want to. It’s because I want to understand the world,” she told The Sunday Magazine.
“And so in order to understand it, I have to know a lot of things about it. But it’s not the knowing that I’m after, it’s the understanding.”