There's only one five-timer in the field, two-time prime-timer Sriram Hathwar; and five four-year repeaters including long-time ALOTT5MA fave Vanyya Shivashankar, the keystone to many a pool entry over the years and one of two siblings of past winners in the field. There are two Canadians.
The rules appear to be the same as last year, with its artificial cutoff Thursday afternoon of kids who've spelled all their words correctly onstage but erred in the computerized rounds, and my objection still stands:
Are we okay with a Bee in which many kids will be eliminated not be spelling a word wrong on stage, but by performance in a private, computerized competition? Clear pros and cons -- it spares these young people that public moment of failure, which can be both scarring and motivating -- but it also deprives the audience of the full drama. I have long noted that the Bee is, in essence, a long process by which we see every kid (but one) misspell a word, which is ironic and more than a little sad, but putting myself back in my early adolescent hypercompetitive brain, I think that's what the kids want -- win or lose (and likely lose), to have it happen on the stage, in that moment of spotlight and pressure.But on the other hand, as I noted after last year's Bee: "The Bee doesn't exist for our enjoyment: it exists for the kids who are competing in it, so as I've said before the question of whether these computer-based cutoffs are appropriate is really one for them as competitors more than for us as observers. From this outsider's perspective, it does seem more fair to have evaluations based on 24 (and 24 more) common words rather than the luck of the draw at the microphone, and more compassionate to not have every eliminated speller have to suffer that fate in front of a camera—but that also renders the Bee a test of slightly different skills than the traditional oral-only evaluation."