Thursday, May 28, 2015

O-U-T-R-A-G-E-D:  Look, there was a lot of tsuris in 2010 when the Bee hacked an afternoon round in half to have a suitable number for primetime. It was worth exploring ways to fix it.

But this is worse.  Much worse. Because (a) once you get to Thursday, all decisions should be made based on how kids do at a live microphone, and (b) even if you were to use some additional test to make a final cut, publishing its results before the spelling is done robs so much suspense from the rounds, especially for those kids (and their families) who know that not only do they not control their own destinies but they have no ability to make the finals no matter what.

A superior solution is simple: keep having afternoon rounds until you finish a round with 15 or fewer spellers.  

Bee organizers have enough experience with word difficulty to know how to titrate a round to eliminate a particular percentage of spellers, more or less. It's not rocket surgery. We know what a Bloodbath rounds looks like. And whether you have 15 kids in primetime or start the evening with 8, it's fine: because they will be the best kids in spelling words in front of a live microphone, which is what the Bee is.  Or was..

Instead, about 176/283 spellers were eliminated without getting a word wrong in front of a microphone.  The kids don't get that drama, and moment, and we don't get to see it. Nor do we get the flipside: while the finalists have now spelled/defined 54 words in making their way to the finals, we've only seen four of them.  We don't know who's the most impressive the bunch, and we don't get to know the kids as well as we used to, back when 6-7 live rounds were held on Wednesday-Thursday before the primetime finals.  Instead, just four rounds, with today's having weird, icky inevitability hanging over them.

This can, and must change.


  1. Charlotte2:17 PM

    YES! I hate this way of doing things. Spell until you are down to 15. Or 12. Whatever makes you happy. But at least let the kids get knocked out by missing a word - not some stupid formula. The final words are very, very tough. Kids would drop left and right - and that's okay. At least they would have tried and failed, as opposed to being mathematically eliminated before the semifinals even begin. Ridiculous!

  2. Genevieve2:29 PM

    Agree 100% and suggest you tweet this to @ScrippsBee as well as @APBenNuckols and any other journalists who have been tweeting the Bee.

  3. BeeFan3:21 PM

    "publishing its results before the spelling is done robs so much suspense
    from the rounds, especially for those kids (and their families) who
    know that not only do they not control their own destinies but they have
    no ability to make the finals no matter what."

    ... continuing this theme from the R5 thread.

    I still disagree. Partially because, as I said before, this system is stupid and its stupidity should not be covered up with uncertainty.

    But there's another reason: why should not competitors (or even us spectators) know what the score is? How can you compete (or spectate intelligently) without knowing the score? Could you imagine coming down to the final minutes of a Super Bowl not knowing whether you need a field goal or touchdown to win? Or maybe two touchdowns (so an onside kick would be in order providing the first TD was scored)?

    Last year I knew some of the kids were wasting their time without knowing exactly who. But I could see that some didn't have a lot of enthusiasm - presumably they knew they'd blown the vocab test.

  4. Adam B.3:31 PM

    This system is stupid. It has been exposed. Uproot the whole thing, so that there is no "score" on Thursday beyond the live microphone. Period.

  5. BeeFan3:57 PM

    "Uproot the whole thing"

    Now you're talking! Exactly!

  6. Barbara Williams5:05 PM

    I said already, but I'd rather see a bloodbath round than this. Much rather. Heartbreaking that 3 kids didn't make it this year just because the arbitrary cutoff was 12 rather than 13. You can't tell me they couldn't have accomodated 13 kids for primetime.

  7. Devin McCullen5:16 PM

    I agree that this is a dumb system and should be replaced.
    But since ESPN tends to mess up whatever it touches, if it doesn't change, they need to at least change the order of spellers so that those with the highest scores go last. That way each speller still has a theoretical chance when they're at the mike, even if they need the next 25 entrants to mess up.

  8. Christy in Philly5:20 PM

    In addition to complaining about this stupid system, here's my other rant-- while it may not give Vanya a competitive edge, I think the banner on the Bee's twitter page is inappropriate. Show last year's winners, or a collage of kids, but featuring a single speller (and throwing in a kid looking over her shoulder) is just too partisan. It's not fair to the other kids and it puts more pressure on Vanya than is necessary. She hasn't won. She's not the face of the spelling bee. She may be after tonight, but she isn't yet.

  9. I actually kind of wondered if part of the impetus for releasing the prelim scores and rankings was as a reaction to last year when Vanya missed the finals. And lo, there was a hue and cry: "Where's Vanya? Whatever could have happened to her?"

    I think the current system is horrible in every way - but if I were an ESPN/Scripps bigwig, maybe I'd think "this year no one can make complaints like that." (and that's a problem of their own making with the artificial cut-offs anyway)

    Also, the appeal of showing something like a golf leader board was probably irresistible.

  10. BeeFan5:48 PM

    This current system won't allow for a bloodbath round getting the number down to 12. You know why? What if they miscalculate and get down to 7 or 8? Then they're faced with either filling time in prime time, or stopping in the middle of the round to stay with 11 or 12.

  11. Adam B.5:54 PM

    Then go with 7-8, and start with two easy rounds at night.

  12. Barbara Williams6:03 PM

    Or, put the bloodbath words in round 5 and see what happens, and adjust the round 6 words accordingly to get your desired number of finalists.

  13. BeeFan6:09 PM

    As a aside:

    I've heard that one past Bee was nothing but bloodbath rounds - brutal words all the way. I think it was 1990 (Paul Loeffler's year!). Anybody know about that? Any details? Were policy changes made?

  14. Adam C.9:29 AM

    I'm not even sure they (or Words With Friends) got their money's worth on the graphics package. I don't remember seeing the leaderboard on the semifinal broadcast more than 3 or 4 times.