Friday, June 4, 2010

A FEW FINAL BEE WORDS: Anamika Veeramani won by spelling "stromuhr". I'd like to say congratulations to her and send her our admiration and respect. She seems like a sweet, smart, tough competitor and she should be proud.

That said...

That Bee sucked.

I do not say this lightly. I say this as a Bee-lover. A longtime completely biased Bee-lover. I do not like my Bee dressed up all fancy. I like my Bee raw and rough with a shaky camera and fainting contestants. During this Bee, commentators spoke OVER BBC Jacques Bailly and OVER the Spellers. AS THEY WERE SPELLING. They shoved cameras in the faces of sobbing ousted contestants. They had a commercial break between each and every speller. Now, I will pause here to say that I understand the decision to do this. They do it with figure skating competitions as well. They want to space things out and maximize their advertising dollars. I get it. I respect it. But I think it hurt the pace of the Bee. I think all the cuteness and the chatter got in the way of what we Bee-lovers want to see: pure spelling, pure competition. These are not adorable cuddly kids. These are HARDCORE SPELLERS who worked a long time to get here. They are smart and they are tough and they are ready...and they got screwed. And truly, it was not just all of the cuteness and the chatter that hurt the evening.

What hurt the competition worse was the WAY they entered this finals in the first place (see the posts below if you don't know what i'm talking about). If they had simply placed all of Round 6 in primetime, we would have had a stronger, more dramatic evening. We would have had 19 spellers instead of 10. We would have had more time with the spellers. And maybe we would have had some magical moments. And maybe the awkward scent of something not quite fair (which was in the air, rightly or wrongly) would not have been placed on the evening.

And maybe I should just up about it because why hate on something as lovely as the Bee? Oh, Bee. You got fancy and popular and now we are complaining. The cycle of success is upon you. You can't please everyone.

That said, I still love the Bee. And I still love the Spellers. I look forward to next year and what it may bring. I know I'll still look forward to blogging it and I hope you will too.

updated, by Adam: Shonda, Heather, Raf, Cat, and all the Bee veterans, Bee parents and Bee fans who joined us this year -- thank you so much. We've been celebrating these kids for eight years, and am I'm overjoyed by the community we can build here around them and what they can do. It's the insight y'all bring which makes it possible. So thanks for coming, and do stick around -- I'd like to think we've built a fun place for the non-Bee weeks of the year as well.


  1. I so agree. It was kind of unfair to some of the spellers who I thought went through with a lot of dignity. Some of the commentators bugged me as well. I think I need to watch my bootleg of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee to feel better about it. Congrats to Anamika though, she is a rockstar!

  2. FYI just wanted to add how proud I was of Laura Newcombe a fellow Ontarian and love that part of her profile featured my favorite area of Toronto in Chinatown :)

  3. D'Arcy10:19 PM

    Maya - I'm an Ontarian, too!  What did they show - Kensington Market?

    And it's funny that you mention the Putnam County Spelling Bee - there's a theatre near where I live that's doing that one right now, which I thought was spectacular but probably accidental timing.

  4. LOL Yay Canada! yeah I believe they showed the Spadina and Kensington area, I thought it was so cool I spend hours there when I'm in the city :) I am such a broadway geek,  I remember I won the lottery in NYC for Putnam County Spelling Bee with my friend Lauren and we got in the front row! Good times esp when we saw it Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitchell on Modern Family) was Leaf Coneybear which now that I look back on it is kind of cool :)

  5. BeeFan10:40 PM

    Alas, I have to agree with Shonda.  Sucky, sucky bee.

    I'm getting the same sinking feeling I got when the NHL started making all those rules changes.  Then came shootouts and ...

    I just quit.  I wasn't interested anymore.  From a lifetime fanatic to no-interest instantly.  It could happen with the Bee.  It hasn't happened yet, but it could.

    This evening I was thinking I wished I'd just taped the damn Bee so I could fast-forward through the commercials and the profiles and everything else.  The actual spelling is still good (except for the hokey-jokey sentences).

    I can't imagine TV inserting a commercial between every batter of a World Series game.  Or between every series of downs in a Super Bowl. 

    (And what was with Laura Newcombe and that word?  I could hear it fine.  Are the acoustics in the room so bad it can only be heard on TV?  Maybe Maryland will be better.)

    Well, good job, Anamika, for surviving the TV crap and spelling perfectly. You kept your cool better than I would have.

    Interesting that the year I throw out a Championship Word List quiz is the first time (since it was instituted) that the Championship Word List wasn't needed.

  6. Anonymous10:51 PM

    Psst-- "stromuhr" only has one "h". :)

  7. SarahC10:51 PM

    The hilarious Sklar Brothers (of "Cheap Seats" fame) will be live-blogging the West Coast broadcast of the ABC finals in 10 minutes (11 PM eastern). Here's the link!

  8. codeman3810:52 PM

    Psst-- "stromuhr" only has one "h". :)

  9. Uncle Spike10:54 PM


    COMPLETELY agreed. This bee SUCKED. First, there was the issue of...well, we all know what the issue was. Poorly handled. Second was the fallout from that. I (commercial break) couldn't (commercial break) stand (commercial break) what (commercial break) they (commercial break) were (commercial break) doing (commercial break) to (commercial break) those (commercial break) kids! THAT right there is cruel and unusual. Especially when the breaks separated "ochidore" (good GOD, what a skullbuster!) from "juvia" (yawn), and then, most inexcusably, from "stromuhr." Third, the cutesy song-and-dance routines that introduced each bee segment were stomach-turning. Boo to ABC for that.

    Having said that...three cheers for Anamika! She was my fave from round 4 this morning. Seriously. Saw her go to town on "osteomyelitis," and there was something about her quiet, serious demeanor that I couldn't quite pinpoint, but I knew at that point that she was the one to beat. I lost some confidence on "mirin," but she redeemed herself on "epiphysis." THAT'S how you win a bee.

    And having said's not a sin to show some emotion, Anamika! You're best in the nation! (Oh well. Consider the source - this is coming from someone who damn near came UNGLUED when he won all those years ago.)

    Wish I could have been on the live blog, but I couldn't stand seeing the words pop up there and not being able to follow on TV. Besides, life goes on outside the bee...I'm having a housewarming tomorrow night, and we are cleaning this place up like crazy.

    And thus ends our favorite soap opera of the year. *sigh* Think I'll throw my hat in the ring to be a pronouncer or at least a judge at next year's Denver Post spelling bee.

  10. SarahC10:58 PM

    Anamika seemed really nervous after she won! I was hoping she would at least crack a big smile. I don't know if we'll ever see a Rebecca Sealfon-like reaction again. :) of a kind.

  11. BeeFan11:20 PM

    When spellers were spellers, bees were bees, and words were words.

  12. BeeFan11:20 PM

    When spellers were spellers, bees were bees, and words were words.

  13. "Hardcore competitors". 

    That...right there, that. People allow the fact that they're kids overwhelm the fact that these kids are some of the toughest, coldest competitors you'll ever meet. 

    Let me flip the image a bit. For as long as I can remember, the Little League World Series has been televised. We're talking about kids in the same general age range, who are competing to be the best in their field, same as the Little Leaguers.

    ABC wouldn't have cutesy song-and-dance numbers before the pitcher from Granville, OH takes a swing - so why put the spellers through the same rigamarole? I might not have had the most fashion-forward wardrobe, and lord knows I've rocked some seriously thick glasses...but at the same time I was busy spelling, I was also busy learning how to play rugby, football, and run track & field. 

    They're hardcore competitors, folks. Full stop, nothing less. Show them that way.

  14. BeeFan11:24 PM

    So, on a happier note (not for me, I picked Ruiter & Newcombe), who won the pool?

  15. BeeFan11:27 PM

    You know who really understood that?

    Mike and Mike.  Let them televise the Bee their own way.   It would be great.  And people would watch, regular sports fans would watch.  If they need some expert analysis - Rebecca Sealfon.

  16. codeman3812:10 AM

    I was just rewatching the bee, and noticed that, in his pre-taped interview segment, Shantanu defined "hoomalimali" as a type of weasel. I thought I'd misheard that, but no, he said weasel.

    Do they not do fact-checking on these things? A hoomalimali is an object designed to attract attention. And weasels? Not exactly common in Hawaii, last I checked...

  17. lindab2:33 AM

    It turns out there would have been time to include all of round 6 in the ABC broadcast (leaving out some segments such as Will Farrell or the firemen and not pausing for commercials between every speller).  Of course nobody knows how long a round will take or how many kids will be eliminated.  But I agree with the suggestion of replaying the start of the 6th round to begin the ABC broadcast and including all 19 kids as "finalists" for the press conference and such - although it might be hard for those kids who missed to have it shown twice. 

    No matter how hard hard the staff works at making it's impossible to make everything completely fair.   I hope there's a way to give the kids the thrill of being in a primetime broadcast without having it mess so much with the rhythm and focus of the bee.

  18. Dan F3:04 AM

    Thanks as always for the Bee coverage, everyone.  Missed the ESPN rounds because I'm on the West Coast this week, but all the comments caught me up.  Watching the finals on DVR made the commercials a non-issue, but it was still a pretty anticlimactic year.

    Just wanted to give a shout-out to color man Paul Loeffler, who I'm sure was doing his best to stay out of the way of the spellers.  Can we blame Chris Harrison for the bulk of the annoying interruptions?  Paul always seems to be spot-on about the possible trouble areas, the etymological issues, what the spellers are thinking... It's rare for a TV commentator to be so knowledgeable, and I love seeing him on TV once a year.  OK, full disclosure, we were buddies at "nerd camp" in high school... anyone know what Paul does for the other 364 days of the year?

    (Credentials: 1991 Bee -- out in the 4th round on "panegyric", so I vaguely remember Raf but he wouldn't know me; year-round reader of this blog)

  19. lindab3:53 AM

    Paul is the radio play-by-play announcer for Fresno State sports and also interviews World War II vets for "Hometown Heroes" on KMJ 580.

  20. Can I crowdsource that research? I believe it's Bob Loblaw w/ <span>Anamika Veeramani and Aditya Chemudupaty, but would appreciate confirmation that I didn't err.

  21. Thanks for all for the Bee coverage.  I'm currently working on a production of Putnam County Spelling Bee (yeah yeah, like many companies across the country) and several of us in the company followed it closely.  We finished rehearsal last night just in time to see the last few words.  And for those who know the show, Mitch's speech about kids wanting things to be fair had an amazing resonance after the events of yesterday.

  22. Jenn.9:46 AM

    I think that it's a tie between me and Bob, because we both had Anamika and Aditya C. and Julia D. both got eliminated in Round 6.

  23. Dan, I forget: did you interview Harrison during the upfronts?  Was he ready for this?

    And I had no idea you, too, were a Bee vet.

  24. isaac_spaceman10:58 AM

    I have a question, if anybody is still around.  Why was it okay for Dr. Bailly to anglicize (or, if you'd rather, butcher) the pronunciation of "gyokuru" and "netsuke" (and, IIRC, the Spanish word that I'm not recalling right now but which had a "gui" in it), but he had to keep a French accent for "confiseur"?  I'm inferring from the discussion that there's a reason for it, but as it turned out, the inconsistency worked to the detriment of both the "gyokuru" speller and Newcombe. 

  25. Charles11:27 AM

    I haven't watched an ESPN Bee broadcast in a while, but it used to be that ESPN would actually treat the Bee as a sport--focusing on the competitors and not talking right over them. ABC, on the other hand, feels a bit condescending in their coverage--more of a "Look! We're treating a *spelling bee* as a *sport*! Isn't that wacky?" attitude.

    I really hope that the spellers couldn't hear Harrison and co. talking while they were trying to spell. I'm hoping that distance and microphones ensured that they weren't an aural distraction.

  26. lindab11:32 AM

    Dr Bailly is limited to the pronunciation in the official Bee reference, Merriam-Websters Third New International Dictionary.  The official pronunciation the editors choose is heavily influenced by actual [Northeast?] American pronunciation of the word and may not be faithful to the rules of the language of origin.
    That said, Dr Bailly does make mistakes, as would any human trying to give hundreds of spellers their words with utmost precision.  I quibbled with mauka, since the accent should have been on the ma, not the u - but the kid got the word right anyway.  I had to check the dictionary on gyokuro, and sure enough there was only one pronunciation given, and it was not how I would have thought the gyo- should be pronounced.
    I read a post by Cat earlier that gave a good insight; something to the effect that the dictionary pronunciation is influenced by how the word entered the English language.

  27. Did I inadvertently make you think I'm Fienberg?  Just another Dan F.

    I did forget to mention another credential, that I recently music-directed a high-school production of "Spelling Bee"...

  28. How many Dans do we have here? :)

  29. Bob Loblaw2:25 PM

    Jenn, you seem to forget that Aditya was a "Championship Finalist", so clearly he performed better than Julia D.  They don't give out titles like "Championship Finalist" just on a random whim.  Plus, if Julia D. was really Aditya's equal, then why didn't she spend any time hanging out with Shaquille O'Neal, which has ALWAYS been the standard for a true "Championship Finalist."

  30. David2:39 PM

    I propose a new rule that any round that ENDS with 20 or fewer spellers moves to primetime. Anyone with me?

  31. Julen2:56 PM

    I totally agree that ABC was treating the bee like a wink-wink sport; the commercials for 20/20 following it (featuring kids who climbed Mt. Everest and other physical feats) said basically (and I'm paraphrasing), "You think these kids are great, well check out these kids who are really amazing." It felt like ABC was basically saying "yeah, yeah, smart kids, yeah yeah ... let's show you some really impressive kids: jocks!"

    I suspect the TV Execs have gotten so used to tightly controlling the "narrative" and "storylines" for any show that has any component of reality (or "real people" and not scripted characters) in it that they
     a) do not see anything wrong with the sheer amount of talking because they have to tell us what and how to think about the Bee to ensure we are "entertained",
     b) would be uncomfortable with the lack of predictability around just letting it unfold naturally and having silence on the screen while someone is thinking or reacting, and
     c) don't think much of their audience. It's that amorphous lowest common denominator - idiots who need to have everything explained mulltiple times and to be hit over the head repeatedly with information to make sure they get what we're telling them.

    People who watch the Bee are people who like words and spelling , have a hometown rooting interest, were or have smart kids, like competitions, like kids, are the sort of people who play along at home to Jeopardy and Cash Cab, and/or are just like watching people be people. If you direct the Bee to that audience, you're going to end up with an enthusiastic repeating audience who talks it up to friends and family. What we got last night won't grow the audience; in fact, if my Yard Sale eavesdropping is any indication, they lost viewers for part of last night's show and probably next year.  An 11 year old who couldn't hear half the words pronounced because of the commentators, a woman who got exasperated with how slow it was and kept switching channels during the comemrcial breaks and stopped swiitching back, and her friend who really didn't think it was right to make a kid cry on the air after losing on national TV.

  32. FormerSpeller6:21 PM

    Yeah, that should have been edited out of the segment. No reason to blame Shantanu because he was probably exhausted and overloaded with words and definitions at that point but ABC should have done its job. There were much bigger problems this year than one poorly fact-checked segment though. *sigh*

  33. FormerSpeller6:28 PM

    This isn't a bad suggestion. So much of what makes the bee compulsively watchable are the unscripted moments and unpredictability that remains when 20-50 spellers are still in the competition. There are still many kids who were either lucky to make it or are just grateful to have made it to that level. So they still display the spontaneity and humor that is more typical of middle schoolers. That's why I am glued to the television during the ESPN rounds but am far less attentive when I watch the ABC rounds. The last ten kids are usually so focused and professional that the pleasure of watching them as just kids is gone. I also think that if you've made it so far as to be one of the last 19 spellers standing out of millions of kids worldwide, that is an accomplishment worthy of prime-time television time.

  34. Genevieve11:24 PM

    I don't enjoy reading or watching the Sklar Brothers on the Bee, because I always feel like they're mocking the kids in unfair ways.  Yes, it's what they do, but these are kids and I don't like it.

    And then in their twitter feed, they say flat out that they think the kids in "Amazing Kids" are better than the Bee kids.  That's just nasty.

  35. Jenn.2:14 PM

    Dammit, why couldn't Georgia start with a W instead of a G?