Whether this is a problem, to me, isn't for folks like me to decide, because I remain perfectly comfortable saying that we finished with two equally-matched spellers, neither of whom was demonstrably better than the other, and that the only thing which could have determined a sole "winner" last night would have been arbitrary luck—a random, root-less word (Fijian? Welsh?) which one of the pair just hadn't seen before.
To me, it's up to the elite spellers, those of you who once had (and those still competing with) realistic aspirations of winning this thing: is a tie satisfying for you? Would you rather have extended the competition until one speller won, and one lost? Because if the spellers are fine with ties, so am I.
Let's suppose we wanted to yield One True Winner, however. Obviously, one option is to have a longer, even unlimited Championship Words List. Have them spell-til-they-drop, all night long, until one random word trips someone up.
But I also want to point to two ways in which the Bee's structure may now be making ties more likely, and which could be modified:
The use of written tests to eliminate spellers, rather than additional live rounds in the afternoon, increases the likelihood that the best-of-the-best are the ones who make it through to primetime, while affording said students some margin for early error. Twenty-four was a perfect score in the semifinals multiple choice tests; Vanya and Gokul scored 18 points each. (Heck: every student spelled at least one word wrong in the spelling semifinals, including two errors from Vanya; twelve kids did better than Gokul on the vocabulary questions.) The competitors only had four live words to spell in front of a microphone to make it to primetime, one of which was essentially a gimme for every student.
It broke our hearts in 2007 when Samir Patel was eliminated around noon in his final competition on a word like clevis, as it does every time a four-or-five-timer goes down before primetime. (It looks like it was a harder round 5 than yesterday's.) But I do have to wonder if a Bee structured less around written tests and instead posing more difficult live afternoon rounds would yield fewer super-spellers in primetime, and less likelihood of a tie.
More controversially, the Bee could consider whether the existence of such super-spellers is itself the problem -- that students competing the national Bee four or five times, in addition to multiple North South Foundation and other events, are just too good for the Bee. (Put another way: that we all would have guessed Vanya and Gokul would be the final two is a bug, not a feature.) What if the rules restricted the National Bee to 6th-8th graders only, or to no more than 2-3 opportunities per student? You'd have finalists who were spending fewer years preparing for the Bee altogether (which may have other salutary effects), and a slightly lower caliber of competitors making its way to National Harbor. Again, I think you'd be more likely to see one winner through this path than the status quo, but whether this is actually a good thing (overall, or even on this specific question of reducing ties) is reasonably disputable.
But on this point, and on salutary effects, I want to go back to something Samir wrote for us in 2011 which has stuck with me -- the flipside of being Vanya and Gokul this morning. What if you're Samir, or Dylan O'Connor, or Katharine Wang?
The Bee, in general, was a lot of fun. There were a lot of 'first' experiences for me -- Scripps does a great job of making Bee Week revolve around socialization and fellowship between the spellers....However, as I kept returning, it definitely did become more 'stressful' and less 'fun' each year. [In either '06 or '07, during the actual competition days, all I ate -- for ALL of the competition days -- was a bag of Doritos and a can of Coke. That's how stressed I was.] That's definitely a result of me growing up and the media paying so much attention to me, not because of anything Scripps did. ...
[I]n the spelling bee, there are words you do know and words you won't -- in '05, '06, and '07, I knew every word in the Bee except for the ones I missed.... Having all this pressure on me to perform definitely affected my enjoyment of the bee. In the first three years, I was sort of just riding the wave, enjoying the experience and the attention and the success. Even in '04 when I went out in the 5th round, I wasn't too terribly disappointed. But in '06 and '07, I was under a tremendous amount of pressure -- from myself, from the media, from even my family and friends. As I'd grown up a bit, I was taking the whole Bee more seriously -- you can easily see my personality change from watching the '03 and '07 bees.
In '07, after I missed on 'clevis' and met my dad in the comfort room, I was actually okay -- I'd gotten so fed up with the whole thing that I was just glad it was over. I desperately wanted to win, but at that point in time, I was honestly just relieved I'd never have to study spelling again.Something to think about.