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.