Thursday, May 29, 2014

THE DOZEN:  Twelve remarkable spellers remain for tonight's primetime finals, out of thirty-one who had survived round six. You can see the computerized test whose results performed the cutdown here, and the twelve spelling words are, generally speaking, reasonably on the same level with what you saw in the two oral rounds today, with some perhaps too easy (Pleistocene, yizkor) but the rest on a reasonably competitive level.  The vocab words were a bit easier, if you know your roots at all: what could pachydermatous mean other than "somehow like an elephant" (thick-skinned), or Volkslied other than a folk-song, or megacephalic other than big+head?

Sriram Hathwar, by far, did the best in this round, with 70 of a total possible 72 points, followed by Neha Konakalla and Mary Horton, with 62 being the minimum score to survive. (Each computerized round being worth 30.)

How you should feel about this depends on how you value fairness versus drama, because it is undeniably more fair to have twenty-four shared words (plus two unique words) decide these cutdowns rather than the randomness of a lawnmower round for which memorization of root-less words matters most. Except that that random stuff is inherent in the Bee: as Samir, Raf, and other Bee vets have long noted here, all the Bee can possibly determine is who was able to spell each of the words he or she was assigned that year. It cannot determine who America's Best Young Speller is by any absolute measure.

But no one wants the "most" fair Bee, because that would just have all the kids do the same timed, written test. We want the drama of a lone speller, on stage, in front of the camera. What attracts us to watching the Bee, and the kids to competing in it, is that thrill: when you have two minutes, and can only rely on yourself, will you remember (or luck onto) the right answer? Could we, if we were up there?

I don't like this cutdown. I'd rather they just spend all afternoon to go down to 15-or-fewer, however long it takes. But at least we know that tonight for those twelve kids remaining, only live spelling remains, and while it will break out hearts to see eleven of them falter, that's the challenge that they, and we, want to see.


  1. In my view, the final cuts shouldn't have been done on live TV--it was WAY too awkward and uncomfortable for good viewing. (Despite the great moment Jacob gave us.)

  2. Sara Miller3:28 PM

    Could someone please do phonetics of the 12 spelling words on the Semis test? I'd kinda like to test myself on them.

  3. Sherri C3:51 PM

    I hate the testing to winnow it down. Maybe at the beginning, but NOT for the finals. I am NOT HAPPY.

  4. Sara Miller4:36 PM

    ESPN2 just did a segment on their show "Highly Questionable" where it was 3 guys just making fun of and laughing at the "fainting kid" from 2004 for about 5 minutes. Stop it. Please stop with the fainting kid, ESPN. Thank you.

  5. Cliff5:21 PM

    1. PLY stuh seen [Greek plus Greek] : relating to the geological epoch
    2. SAY trap / SAH trap / SAH truhp [Persian to Greek to Latin to English] : an ancient Persian governor
    3. KAWT suh ruh [Japanese] : a large tree

    4. vur BEE nuh / vur BEE nyuh [Latin] : a shrub
    5. heh SPEAR ee uhn / HEH spear ee uhn [Greek to Latin plus English] : Western
    6. SHOO [Latin to French] : a cabbage

    7. ree AW truh piz uhm [Greek + Greek] : plant growth that follows the direction of a water current
    8. YIZZ kuhr [Hebrew] : a Jewish memorial service
    9. nai DARE ee uhn / NAI dare ee uhn [Greek to Latin plus English] : relating to the jellyfish

    10. puh TAUNTS / puh TAUNS [French] : relating to a heraldic cross with floriated arms
    11. bawk muh KIR ee [imitative Dutch] : an African bird
    12. fuh ZAY lee ait [Hungarian name + Hungarian] : a gray mineral

  6. Adam B.6:03 PM

    You don't get the three points.

  7. Chad Berlin6:07 PM

    These rules changes have more or less destroyed my enthusiasm for the spelling bee. This used to be one of my favorite events of the year. I wish I still cared, but it's hard to manufacture the same enthusiasm I used to. I get that there's not necessarily a right or wrong way to run a spelling bee, but I far preferred the old way (and I'm talking before they shifted the Finals to Prime Time...I really feel that was the beginning of the end for me). I also get that a spelling bee doesn't exist solely for my entertainment, but entertainment is pretty much the only reason I watch it, and when I don't care for the way a contest is being run it sort of ceases to be entertaining.

    Just thought I'd express my great disappointment that something I used to really love no longer holds much value for me. I hope everyone else still gets the same thrill they used to.

  8. Thanks. I noticed Lucas missed one of his unique vocab words, and I'd hate to think that was the only reason he's not coming back tonight.

  9. Adam B.6:22 PM

    Where do you see that?

  10. Sara Miller6:32 PM

    Wow, thanks Cliff!

  11. Sara Miller7:41 PM

    I like this tweet from @BrianReich: "I hope the 19 kids who aren't moving on to the Nat'l Spelling Bee final round set up an alternative bee next door, broadcast it on YouTube."

  12. BeeFan7:48 PM

    Yeah, me too. I think I'm only hanging on because of a rooting interest in certain spellers that have been around awhile. Sriram is done this year, and Vanya next year.


  14. Bee-fan9:02 PM

    I agree with the lack if drama. But in 2010 they stopped in the middle of a semifinal round because it was such a bloodbath. Spellers passed through by virtue of their number. It was a weird moment.