Friday, May 23, 2014

PREPARATION: Next week's Bee schedule (infographic too) is the same as last year's:
Tuesday: computerized test (spelling + vocab)
Wednesday, all day long: everyone has two chances at the microphone. Ding and you're out. The top up-to-50 (based on computerized test) survive to Thursday, but they have to take a computerized test first.
Thursday, 10am: three rounds at the microphone. Top up-to-12 (based on Weds night test) make it to primetime, unless the cutoff would leave them with less than nine, in which case they can (but don't have to) add another tranche of spellers who'd bring the total over 12.
Thursday, 8pm: championship finals.
Yes, again, the dictates of television and having a manageable group for primetime (remembering the 2010 controversy when the afternoon competition stopped mid-round to have the "right" number of kids for primetime) impose artificial elimination points in the competition. Last year, the final 18 became a final 11 based on the computerized test, while I think the kids would rather see it all settled at the microphone. Yes, judging all the kids on the same set of words leads to slightly-less-arbitrary results, but at that level the results are inherently arbitrary. Oh well.


  1. Sara Miller11:28 AM

    I still abhor the idea that a kid can be eliminated from this contest now without misspelling a single word. It may have actually happened last year to poor Margaret Peterson. Spelled every word correctly onstage all the way to the end of Semifinals and nailed all the 3-point vocab bonuses (and for all we know, spelled every word correctly on the written tests), but disqualified from the primetime finals based on the second written test. Could've been vocab alone that did her in. Unfortunately she won't be back this year, she took third in her regional to a kid who openly admitted "To be honest I didn't even know most of the words."

  2. Michael Hagen6:04 PM

    FEWER than nine, Not LESS than nine, Pet peeve.

  3. Adam B.7:29 AM

    This isn't Grammar Bee Week, but duly noted.

  4. Sara Miller3:56 PM

    Don't give Scripps any ideas :).

  5. Amber Born6:17 PM

    I'm a former speller (2010-13), and I never met anyone who likes the computer tests. In my personal opinion/experience, there's a lot more prestige in being struck down by a word at the microphone in front of millions than there is in being quietly steamrolled by a computer test. (If anyone at the NSB is reading this: Hi! No offense intended!)

  6. Adam B.8:22 PM

    Welcome aboard! We love having Bee veterans here, and always are interested in your thoughts.

    And we were a big fans of you -- Shonda loved your comic timing last year -- -- heck, she went on to say: "I want Amber Born to be 25 years older so she can say snarky things at my dinner parties. She's hilarious. And smart. She pulls the spelling of malacophilous out of who knows where and celebrates as the crowd cheers. They love her. So do her fellow spellers. So does every single person watching."

  7. Amber Born9:05 PM

    I'm pleasantly surprised that people remember me, and obviously I was honored that people, including Shonda Rhimes (!), thought I was funny/rooted for me. I'm really excited for the 2014 NSB, and I'll hopefully be able to comment on here during it.

  8. BeeFan6:15 AM

    I suspected the spellers were as much (or more) opposed to the computer tests and other artificial cutoffs as the (real) fans.

    I can remember, not all that long ago, when the Bee was an example of what television can do but so seldom does - point the camera at an event an just let it happen instead of controlling everything. Alas.

    And yes, we remember spellers (not just the final winners).

  9. Sara Miller9:50 AM

    Welcome! You were hilarious and awesome at the Bee last year.

  10. Sara Miller10:25 AM

    How do you feel about Scripps adding vocab to the Bee (as half of the contest no less)? I just feel like they've opened a can of worms with this. I vote to keep it as spelling and spelling only. Bee fans know the kids learn tons of vocab, etymology, and language patterns while studying. I think they only added vocab as a public-relations thing to make the primetime-TV-viewing unwashed masses think it isn't just about rote memorization, but surprise, vocab can be rote memorization just as much as spelling.

    I also find it ironic that Scripps has added vocab (and partly justifies it as prep for college admissions tests) just as the SAT is further de-emphasizing vocabulary. SAT is planning on overhauling the test again in the next couple of years to reduce vocab even more by using less-obscure words ("synthesis" instead of "diurnal," for example), and they had already cut in half the number of vocab questions in 2005 when they eliminated analogy questions.

  11. Sara Miller1:31 PM

    I guess I'm a "spelling bee purist." I think an event that's going to still call itself the National Spelling Bee should be just that, spelling only.

  12. Adam B.1:45 PM

    Is that actually a good thing, though? If everyone's facing the same words -- whether spelling or vocab -- you're reducing the power of luck and more likely recognizing the best talent.

    Put another way: if a kid doesn't do well enough in the first computerized test to make it to Thursday, I kinda doubt s/he was going to win the competition.

    (That said: of course I'd prefer no computerized test at all, and just running the competition straight through on Wednesday and Thursday until completed, but ESPN/Disney requires we no longer live in that world.)

  13. BeeFan1:45 PM

    Was it really added for TV viewers? Like the computerized test, it's just another thing not viewable on TV at all.

  14. Amber Born2:09 PM

    I was eliminated four times at the Bee; twice on onstage words, twice on the round one test. I know that giving everyone the same words is fairer, but I definitely preferred being eliminated onstage, because onstage spelling is the greatest part of the Bee (that and meeting Dr. Bailly).

  15. BeeFan2:18 PM

    But the very earliest rounds of the Bee have never been televised, have they? I think the computerized test (originally just a "written test") was originally done because of the increasing number of competitors made the sheer length of the Bee an endurance test as much as a spelling competition - along with the necessity of coming up with increasingly longer word lists.

    This problem, among others, could be solved, as I've suggested in the past, by splitting the early rounds into groups and running in parallel (which is done at a regional bee I've attended and, I'm sure, many others).

  16. Sara Miller11:36 AM

    I just mean I think they added vocab so the general public wouldn't think the Bee was about rote memorization (IMHO anyway). I think they mention on the TV broadcast that vocab is half of the score to make the TV cut.

  17. Marsha1:45 PM

    Welcome Amber! Count me as one of your big fans - you were so impressive last year, and I'm so glad that you're here!

  18. Genevieve2:51 PM

    Amber, you were absolutely hilarious last year, as well as calm and collected and a great competitor. So glad to see you here, and I hope you post tons!