Saturday, June 5, 2010

THE LACK OF FULL-FRONTAL MALE NUDITY MAY BE A PLUS, HOWEVER: As someone who enjoyed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I was looking forward to Get Him To The Greek. However, this winds up being more than a little misfire. The big problems with the film are two-fold.

First is the casting of Jonah Hill. Hill's a very funny guy, but the role, as scripted, is written as a somewhat uptight rock and roll snob who winds up letting loose. Hill is kind of the antithesis of that, maybe in part because of the baggage he carries from Superbad. He's not bad in the role, but I wonder if the film might have worked better with a dweebier leading man like a Michael Cera or Jay Baruchel.

Second, despite Katherine Heigl's "sexism" shout about Knocked Up, the best Apatovian films distinguish themselves with strong female characters. In particular, while it would have been easy for the title character of Forgetting Sarah Marshall (who makes a very brief appearance) to be a one-dimensional bitch, she winds up being fully formed. Elisabeth Moss seems to be nicely cast as Hill's girlfriend, a medical student who he never sees because of her schedule, but the role is so poorly developed that it can't work, and winds up calling for a naughtiness that she doesn't sell terribly well. Rose Byrne fares better as Jackie Q, Aldous' love interest, particularly by showing impressive singing chops, but the writing fails her, turning her into exactly the one-dimensional bitch that Sarah Marshall wasn't.

There's still a lot of funny stuff, particularly the songs, several of which are co-written by Jason Segel, who gets a "based on characters created by" and an associate producer credit, and a cameo from quite possibly the last journalist you'd expect to see cameoing in an Apatow film. It's also clear that there are probably a lot of very funny alternate takes, improvisations, and deleted material in the vault, as it's clear that the people involved had the time of their life making it. For that reason, wait for DVD.
THANK YOU, DR. BAILLY: Due to work stuff and some other issues, I wasn't able to be as involved in the Bee coverage this year as I'd like to have been, and only got around to watching last night's ABC coverage today. Seems like there's general agreement around here that this year's coverage didn't work, but I wanted to talk a little more about why:
  • Host--I don't watch Dancing with Semi-Famous People, but, by all accounts, Tom Bergeron is among the best in the business at keeping things moving along while still being a pro, and his prior hosting of the Bee has been quite good. Chris Harrison, on the other hand, is not. Understandably, they want a face from one of their shows to serve as a host, but couldn't they have done better? (OK, looking at their schedule, maybe not.) I don't mind Erin Andrews in the Kiss and Cry space, as she's a decent interpersonal presence and fine with human interest stuff (not to mention nice to look at), but she should be paired with someone with a little more background in the Bee.
  • Scheduling--A staple of the recent coverage has been the pre-cut clip packages for major spellers. Because of how this year's Bee wound up working out (the relatively lack of people making return trips to the finals, that some favorites went down early), they didn't have pre-cut packages for many of the finalists. Also contributing to the problem is that unlike most sporting events, it's very hard to guess how long the Bee may run (witness the Wipeout filler), and hard to say whether a round is hard or easy, at least once they're off the main word list. Perhaps what they should consider is shifting the Bee schedule a bit, with them completing preliminaries, and then proceeding on Friday till they have completed a round with 20 or fewer left standing. Then, Sunday, starting at 7 EST, we go live on ABC til we have a winner. That lets the spellers rest a little more, which would be well-deserved, and give ABC an extra day to do packages/interviews with any finalists they hadn't done previously.
  • Production Values--I admire that they're shooting it in HD and giving it full ESPN treatment, and I appreciate that they aren't putting correct spellings up immediately after Dr. Bailly reads, but giving viewers a chance to play along. However, there's too much split-screening, however, especially on the parents of the finalists--just because you can use a split screen doesn't mean you should. I also don't mind a little gussying-up for TV, but did we need a not-terribly-funny bit from Ferrell and Wahlberg, or the announcers promoing Wipeout, which might be the antithesis of the Bee? (And let us not talk about the bizarro "Do I Have To Spell It Out" musical montage.)
  • Setup--At least for the conclusion of the first round, Kiss and Cry was on the stage, which just seems wrong. These are young children, and they should be entitled to a little more privacy after the bell rings, which I'm sure is a very crushing moment. (Though credit to ABC for not forcing folks back to talk to Erin unless they were willing to do so and giving competitors a moment of personal time.)
The Bee is far from broken, but some tweaks to balance the desires of television with the unique nature of the Bee may be required. Also, as Adam mentioned, there are 51 other weeks during the year besides Bee Week--stick around.
SIPOWICZ WAS ROBBED: The writers and editors of Entertainment Weekly claim to have "carefully curated" a list of the 100 greatest characters in pop culture over the last 20 years, but since it doesn't have room for MSCL's Angela Chase or a single character from the SorkinVerse -- well, if you think they're wrong and you won't speak up because you can't be bothered, then God, Jed, I don't even want to know you.

Friday, June 4, 2010

THE WIZARD OF WESTWOOD: All that needs be said about the late John Wooden is that America has never seen a better coach in any sport. Ten national championships in twenty-seven years of coaching at UCLA, including six straight -- and an eighty-eight game winning streak which has never been approached in men's college basketball. “Success is peace of mind," Wooden wrote, "Which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

Wooden built the Pyramid of Success, and assuredly sits at its apex. He was 99.
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.
TEN SPELLERS REMAIN: Welcome to our 2010 National Spelling Bee championship liveblog:

INTERMEZZO: So, what is the final afternoon before primetime like? Our friend Mary Ann Grisham, mother of 2008 eighth-place finisher Cat Cojocaru, explains:
After being named a Championship Finalist on mid-day Friday, the whirlwind hit. Nerves, joy, exhaustion, exhilaration, fear, disbelief, pinch me-I’m dreaming……and that was just the parents. I’m sure the kids’ feelings were intensified tenfold.

Thursday evening, Scripps held a dinner for the semi-finalists and families and thoroughly explained what Finalists could expect in terms of scheduling for the fortunate spellers that would advance to the ABC Championship finals. So the whirlwind of activity was not a complete surprise. I have to give complete credit to the Scripps officials - they are professionals, well-organized, and go out of their way to ensure that ALL spellers feel like champions, not just the lucky few that advance.

Immediately after the ESPN round finished, the press conference began and the spellers were given a schedule for the rest of the day. The schedule varies slightly each year, depending on whether the finalists will be able to visit the White House. In 2008, the finalists were not able to schedule a visit with the President, so their afternoon schedule went something like this:

3:00 – Press Conference, immediately following ESPN Semi-Finals

3:30 – Snack & debriefing in the Family Room

4:00 – Individual interviews with Scripps PR in preparation for Sat. banquet

4:30 – Hair & Makeup…for the whole family…..parents included!

4:55 – Individual interview with ABC/ESPN hosts (Tim, Paul & Erin in our case)

5:15 - Personal Time & local media interviews

6:30 - Private Dinner for Spellers and Families…security was tight & strictly enforced. Dinner was held in the Family room, and was a nice buffet. Cat was the only person who noticed that the Hyatt Catering staff misspelled “Mediterranean” on the buffet menu …light-hearted moment amidst the stress.

7:30 – Report to the stage. Spellers & families were escorted up to the Ballroom via a huge freight elevator, reserved for high security types, so they did not have to enter in via the main Ballroom.

8:00 – Lights, Camera, Action, Spell!

Here’s wishing all the spellers best of luck tonight, and thanks again to the Scripps staff for giving my family a week full of wonderful memories that will last a lifetime.

FAIR DEALING: By now, you know the controversy that took place this afternoon, when Round 6 of the Bee was cut short and moved to the evening.

I'm not going to address the technical details of the controversy; Isaac's done that. Here's how it makes me feel, though.

As some of you know, I was a speller in the 1991 National Spelling Bee. I had participated in dozens of bees beforehand, but I had never made it out of my school until my final year of eligibility. That year, I got on the kind of insane roll that you normally see a Cinderella school get in during March Madness. I won my school spelling bee, then my regional spelling bee, and finally booked a place in the National Spelling Bee by out-dueling a fellow speller over the course of twenty-five or so words.

Anyway, making it to the nationals was one of the most thrilling events in my life. I've stood on the Great Wall of China, I've hung out on the Great Barrier Reef, and I've trod the streets of Babylon - and making the National Spelling Bee 19 years go still ranks right alongside them.

So I can totally imagine how bitterly disappointed spellers like Anvita Mishra are. When you're that age, fairness is a HUGE concept. If I were in Anvita's shoes, I'd be raising holy hell as well. I was a pretty laid-back competitor - I actually fell asleep in my chair the second day - but nothing would've made more alert, or more uncomfortable, than being told that I was getting more rest and study time simply because I was representing Columbus, OH rather than Denver, CO.

Look, life's not fair. Eventually, you find that out - I have, over and over, in good times and in bad. It's a hell of a lesson to learn when you're 13 years old, on a stage like this. While I think it's fair that the Bee is resuming Round 6 from the cut-off point, I can't help thinking that a fairer solution would've been playing out the string in the afternoon, and if you had wound up with four finalists, well, then, so be it.

Something tells me that's a solution that Anvita - and every other speller and spectator watching what ensued this afternoon - could've lived with. There's something that just not quite right about what happened - and as a result, it makes it quite wrong, at least from my perspective.

BOTTLE UP AND EXPLODE! Per our friend Dan Steinberg, it's pandemonium at the Bee over the bifurcated Round 6 and the is-it-or-isn't-it finals. Marsha's explanation about what's happening appears to be correct, but that doesn't mean that everybody likes it. Tokyo's Sonia Schlesinger is "thunder[ing]" and taking names. She and Anvita Mishra argue that the Bee is favoring ESPN over its real constituencies (the spellers and, more generally, education), and it's hard to disagree. Meanwhile, for the perspective of someone who would be onstage whether or not they finished Round 6, tell it, Elizabethplatz:
"I don't think it's fair that so many got out and some just whooshed along," said 13-year old Elizabeth Platz, as audience members clapped and Kimble attempted a frozen smile. "I'd rather have five finalists than five who didn't deserve it. I think it was unfair."
INTERLUDE: Via commenter BeeFan:
The 25-word Championship Word List has not always been with us. Until 1999, all spelling in the NationalSpelling Bee was from a single list. Here is a quiz about the Championship Word List:

1. The 25th word has never been reached. What is the farthest the spellers have ever gone on the list to determine a winner (number of words)?

2. Who is the only pre-seventh grader to spell from the list?

3. Who is the only speller to spell from the CWL twice?

4. Who are the only siblings to spell from the list?

5. Who is the only speller to miss a word on the CWL and come back to win (because his or her opponent also missed)?
And let's bring in Kennyi Aouad.

THE TED WILLIAMS OF THE SCRIPPS BEE: BeeFan, who obviously knows much better than I do, opines that Finola Hackett was the greatest speller to never win Scripps.

I don't know from best, but when I think back on our years of Bee coverage, my favorite speller never to win was Tia Thomas. I loved that she had no poker face -- when the word came out, her eyes told you that that word had no chance against her. And when, once a year, later and later in prime time, she got the one word that she hadn't already mastered, you could see her wobble, flinching as if insulted by a close friend, and it was heartbreaking.

The level of institutional Bee knowledge here today is awesome. Anybody else have a favorite who never wore the crown?

BRING. IT. ON. : Tonight. Prime Time. One of these kids is gonna win the whole thing. Our finalists are: Laura Newcombe, Lanson Tang, Adrian Gunawan, Elizabeth Platz, Shantanu Srivatsa, Annamika Veeramani, Joanna Ye, Julianna Canabal-Rodriguez, Aditya Chemudupaty and Andrew Grose. I'm going to spend the next hour getting to know as much as I can about them and their prospects and then I'll get back to you. And when the Bee gets its page going, you can read about them here. Thoughts?

UPDATE: read the comments in this thread for official rules on whether these kids are finalists or semifinalists. However, on ESPN, they did officially refer to them as finalists.

Here are the official rules (reposting them here):
"The semifinals consist of rounds of oral spelling and will likely be concurrent with the competition's live broadcast on ESPN on Friday, June 4. If the ESPN broadcast concludes during a semifinal round, spellers who have not spelled in the round will advance to the championship finals for the conclusion of the last semifinals round.

The championship finals consist of rounds of oral spelling and are concurrent with the competition's live broadcast on ABC on Friday, June 4, unless the ABC broadcast begins in a round that began during the semifinals. The championship finals will not officially commence until the last semifinals round has concluded, and prizes will be awarded accordingly."
I smell scandal...

Updated: I went back to review tape. Mary Brooks HEAD JUDGE OF THE BEE said these words: "All of you that are on stage are championship finalists for the ABC Broadcast." Hmm...
18 SPELLERS REMAIN...NO WAIT, 19 SPELLERS REMAIN...: Neetu Chandak is back in the game. The reinstatement of Neeta already changes this entire Bee for me. I thought the exchange between BBC Jacques Bailly and Neeta over “paravane” felt odd but what do I know? Apparently Neetu’s mom protested and here she is, back in the Bee, as we begin Round 6.

Right off the bat, we lose Jeremiah Cortez over “favilla”. After the Neetu excitement, I feel bad for him. We’re all hope springs, change comes, anything is possible…and then he’s out.

A word about these sentences BBC Jacques Bailly is using: they are cute in the extreme and not in a good way. Last year is the only Bee year I have missed so I don’t know what went on then, but when did someone get the idea that to punch up the jokiness of the sentences using the Bee words? Make it stop. Please make it stop.

We lose Anvita Mishra on “nephrocytary”, a word I never want to hear again because it sounds like something scary, a like a sharp instrument a doctor sticks into your nether regions. Then Laura Newcombe is still here after a long debate that led to the spelling of “scrannel”.

“Jehu” takes down Grace Remmer. “Phenazocine” knocks out Vaidya. We lose Aldrin on “chistka”. And now 5 of the first 6 spellers have been eliminated. It’s a blood bath!

Julia Deniss is taken from us, struck down by “poilu”, a soldier in the French army. Merriam Webster shows this word as deriving from poilu meaning hairy. Makes me wonder just how hairy those French soldiers got.

Finally! With “villicus”, Adrian Gunawan advances to prime time. And that’s what this round is really all about, is it not? Getting on to prime time. At least that’s what the announcers keep saying. As if this were not a competition for spelling greatness. As if this was some kind of pageant. This is spelling. This is hard core. They’d spell with or without the cameras.

We lose Gina Lu on “Guarnerius” which is both a fancy violin and the name of the family that made the fancy violin.

Lanson Tang (that name is good, it rolls off the tongue) spells “rhabdomyoma” like it was “cat” and strides back to his seat. He’s in the finals. Elizabeth Platz is through on “matsutake.”

Neetu is back up to spell. “Apogalacteum” takes her down -- AGAIN. It’s over for her. It’s done. Second chance didn’t mean anything changed.

10 year old Arvin Mahankali might be the most adorable little kid in the competition. He’s tiny and cute and talks with a 40 year old’s weariness in a baby’s voice. Love him. And...he's gone.

Will none of my favorites survive?

WHAT? They’re shutting it down! Mid-round! Every speller on the stage is now a championship finalist! What?

I think the decision was made because we were losing spellers left and right. The blood bath was rolling on and there was a serious concern that we would not have any spellers left for the finals.

10 Spellers in the Finals. 5 boys, 5 girls.
AND IT'S ON TO THE NEXT ONE, ON TO THE NEXT ONE: Round 5 begins with 32 spellers; live coverage on The Worldwide Leader for those watching on TV, and for those bound to their computers, you can follow on ESPN3. We've already had some surprises; for instance, Tim Ruiter of Reston, VA, whom many expected to go all the way, spelled out in Round 4.

Thanks to Heather for hosting Round 4. I'm happy to be your host for Round 5 of the Bee; I participated in my one and only Bee in 1991, and witnessed one of the all-time great final duels, won by Joanne Lagatta.

13 boys, 19 girls remain. Let's get it on!

Esther Park starts us off with "foliocellosis". And she spells out, sadly.

Next up is Brandon Whitehead. His word is "trompillo", and he's yet another casualty. Two up, two down.

Now spelling: Jeremiah Cortez, with "pyroligneous". He survives to spell in Round 6.

Anvita Mishra gets "conjunto". She's safe as houses with that word.

Canada's lone representative will be next, as we take a commercial break. An interesting link from the comments, courtesy of Shonda Rimes: you can watch the Bee's greatest moments here, at the Huffington Post.

I LOVE MY DICTIONARY, AND I LOVE THE INDENTED BORDER; EVERY WORD'S IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER: Round 4 begins with 48 spellers and live coverage on ESPN and online on ESPN3. Here we go!

Sage Steele is hosting with Paul Loeffler, 1990 Bee finalist, returning for color commentary. In handicapping the favorites, Loeffler mentions Tim Ruiter and Canadian Laura Newcombe.

Mary Brooks is looking snazzy in a black glittery jacket, and introduces the first speller, Rory O'Donoghue from Fairbanks, Alaska. He goes down on "ostrichism."

I admire Dr. Bailly's ability not to crack up when he is reading the pithy sentences written to illustrate the meaning of the word. "Nepenthe" takes Anjali Nair of Arizona out.

Esther Park correctly spells "scholium," bringing us to Brandon Whitehead from California, who plans to participate in the AARP Spelling Bee later in life. He correctly spells "aleatoric."

Super-tall Jeremiah Cortez approaches the mike next. He's one of those eighth-graders who looks like he's 22. The judges want to ensure that he's pronouncing the end of "consuetude" correctly. He is, and he also spells it correctly.

"Diaphanie" seems to shake Anvita Mishra up a bit -- she begins to spell and then stops, asking for more information. She finally spells it correctly, and finishes with a "Yes!"

Commercial break, promising Canadians and Erin Andrews after the break!

INSPIRATIONAL VIDEO #1 OF THE DAY: Dan Steinberg sets the table for today, as does the always-wonderful Linda Holmes of NPR. So does this:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

YOU CAN TELL A LOT ABOUT A FELLOW'S CHARACTER BY HIS WAY OF EATING JELLYBEANS: As many of you who have been following this blog for the past few years know, I was lucky enough to participate in the Scripps (then Scripps-Howard) National Spelling Bee in 1983. It's hard to believe that it was 27 years ago.

I was Googling today to see if I could find any photos from the event, and though I was unsuccessful, I did find a link to this in the online archives of President Ronald Reagan:
OUR 2010 NATIONAL SPELLING BEE POOL: Our rules are only slightly different from previous years, to account for the veteran-light nature of this year's Bee.

So select two spellers, only one of whom can be one of the three who competed in primetime last year (Tim Ruiter, Anamika Veeramani and Neetu Chandak). You will get one point for each word your spellers correctly spell during tomorrow's rounds of the Bee, which resumes at 10am on ESPN. Most points wins; tiebreaker will be whoever has the individual speller going the furthest. While individual spellers can be used more than once, you cannot repeat the same pairing that someone else has already submitted. First come, first served, and the pool will close when the kids start spelling tomorrow morning.

Previous pool winners are Elicia Chamberlin (Close/Hooks), Professor Jeff and Amy (O'Dorney & Thomas/Horton), KJ in 2008 (Mishra/Shivashankar) and Cagey (Shivashankar/Pastapur) last year.

Since it's my blog, I go first, and I'm taking four-timer Neetu Chandak and Canada's Laura Newcombe. Every other pair is up for grabs. Also, a reminder below the fold:
AND NOW THINGS GET INTERESTING: There are 48 Semifinalists who are going to be spelling over on ESPN tomorrow morning. Devastatingly, it appears that Vanya Shivashankar is not among them. She’s only 8 years old so she’ll live to spell another year. Keep an eye out for her. Now let’s look at the competitors:

Of the foreigners, only Tom Winter from New Zealand, Sonia Schlesinger of Japan, Laura Newcombe of Canada and Owayne Rodney of Jamaica remain. All four of them were impressive today.

It's going to take me some time to go through and read about all of these kids. Off the bat, I personally like Michaela Minock of Chicago mainly because in her bio, she states that her true passion is dance. Gina Liu from Charleston, Illinois is a violinist and oboist who creates stop-motion animations in her spare time. I love the well-rounded kids. They make me feel better about the time they spend spelling words alone in a room.

Wanna know more but feel too impatient to wait for me to read up? Stop by here and check the spellers out.

Updated: Who are the Top Guns of the Bee? The elite? There are three spellers who were top ranking finalists last year: Tim Ruiter of Reston, Virginia who tied for second place in 2009; Anamika Veeramani of Cleveland, Ohio who tied for 5th and Geneva, NY’s Neetu Chandak who’s been Beeing it since 2007 and last year tied for 8th. Meet the Badasses of the Spelling World.
THE COMPUTERIZED ROUND: These are the twenty-five words which the competitors had to spell in yesterday's preliminary round. By my count, nineteen that any competent speller should be able to handle, and six at the end to separate the potential winners from the rest. I have no idea in what order they were given to the competitors (in addition to the twenty-five other non-scored words):
  • buh-juh-TERR-ee: why there's only one Canadian here.
  • AM-uh-tyoor, AM-uh-tuhr, AM-uh-chur: someone who's not serious about winning.
  • REH-juh-mehn: what you need to be serious about winning.
  • suh-BATT-uh-kuhl: what you may want from school for the final weeks of training, except for Rule 1, Clause 8.
  • TOO-tuh-lihj, TYOO-tuh-lehj: having Kavya as a big sister at the Bee.
  • SUHR-uh-guht: sending your big sister Kavya to spell a word for you at the Bee.
  • AHB-stuh-kuhl: not having Kavya as your big sister at the Bee.
  • uhn-uh-KWIV-uh-KULL: what your decisions at the Bee have to be.
  • TA-siht: the understanding that you have with your family that if the Bee doesn't work out, you're seeing To Fly! at the Air and Space IMAX tomorrow.
  • uh-GAYP: what your mouth will be when you see To Fly! at the Air and Space IMAX tomorrow.
  • ihn-GRAY-shee-ait: what you can try to do with Dr. Jacques Bailly, not that it will work.
  • ann-uhk-DOTE-uhl: "So, Dr. Jacques, I head this story about you that one time ..."
  • KALL-uhs: "I did not like your story. Go away."
  • PEH-nuhns: What else should I be? All apologies.
  • REH-fyoos: that wretched stuff teeming at your shores.
  • TEH-tuh-nuhs: the shot you'll need if you step into a sharp or jagged piece of REH-fyoos.
  • reh-MITT-uhns: "Mom, dad, I'm kinda in a jam here ..."
  • LIM-uh-rihk: A five line poem regarding male natives of a Massachusetts island.
  • puh-suh-LAN-uh-muhs: scaredy-cat.

  • TAHK-suhn: an alarm bell
  • suh-NOFF-uh-luhst: dog lover.
  • eye-so-KRIME, eye-so-KRIHM: a line connecting places which are as cold as each other.
  • mih-suh-NEE-iz-uhm: a hatred or intolerance of something new or changed
  • buhl-VEHR-suh-mahn: overturning, reversal.
  • uh-PAHL-yuhn, uh-PAHL-ee-uhn: the devil, Kevin!
When you're ready to look, the answers are here.
THIS IS THE MOMENT WHERE IT ALL COMES TOGETHER: Round 3 of the Spelling Bee is underway. It’s on right now on ESPN 3. (I would like to take a moment to point out that I work for ABC. ABC owns ESPN or ESPN owns ABC or Disney owns them all or something. And yet, I cannot get ESPN 3 at my office. Thank you, giant conglomerate.) Anyway, Round 3 has begun and, even though I cannot SEE it, I can feel it. The change in the air. Because this really is it for our spellers. After this round, they will either forever after be known as National Spelling Bee Semifinalists or…um, some kid who likes to spell stuff. This round seals their fate. As a Spelling Bee Junkie, I can tell you there is no greater moment in Day 2.

A question, concern, moment of confusion: There’s a complicated scoring system too hard to explain here (okay not really: Kids take a written exam worth up to 25 points, Round 2 is worth 3 points and Round 3 is worth 3 points making the highest score a kid can get 31 points) but what concerns me is the following rule as quoted from the Bee website: “Immediately after the conclusion of Round Three, Bee officials determine Semifinalists on the basis of points earned in the Preliminaries. No more than 50 spellers will be named Semifinalists.” But what if more than 50 Spellers get a high score? Has it ever happened? What do they do then?

Right now the Californians are spelling. I’m a bit saddened to see that Emma Finch of Salinas, CA could not spell the simple Sound of Music word “edelweiss” – a mistake that will likely haunt her for years to come.

updated: Well, Destiny Su'a knows her cedilla-marked Indianapolis Colts WRs. Jeremiah Cortez was not shang-HIDE by his word, and Anvita Mishra can take her buh-ROOK-see for a walk this afternoon. Thus far, seems like a slightly tougher round. Three words that anyone should be able to get -- those two and day-TAHNT -- but the rest, yeah, you better have studied. ESPN3 has live video here. (Adam)

Update 1:52 pm: Let’s chat about the foreigners. Or to be more precise, the contestants coming in from foreign countries. I’ve already discussed Owayne from Jamaica. But there is also Sonia Ann Schlesinger who came in from Tokyo, Japan. According to her bio, last year when she competed, she was living in DC. Which means that not even a move halfway around the world could deter her Bee-training. She’s adorably cute and I am already a fan. We also have Destiny Su’a from American Samoa, Yelena Persaud from the Bahamas, Jacky Kun Qiao from China, Alyssa Bonisa who is listed as being from “Europe” – which is like saying Vanya Shivashankar (my personal favorite and yeah I’m biased because she was adorably cute when we met her at age 5 as the sister of a champion and also because she is the competition’s youngest speller this year at age 8) is from North America. There’s Tom Winter from New Zealand and Hyunsoo Kim from South Korea, Carmi Thomas from the Virgin Islands and oh yes, the lone Canadian Laura Newcombe. Are there no Bees in their countries, no place for them to hoist a trophy and let their geek flag fly? Is that why they come? Whatever the reason, I always welcome them. And now I have to go look up the definition for "zeitgeber" which sounds vaguely dirty but I'm sure is not. (Shonda)

Update 2:47 pm: Ooooh, THAT is what they look like! (Thanks to my trusty assistant Miguel who is clearly far smarter than I am, I finally have ESPN 3 going on in my office.) Can I just pause to say that Olivia Jacobs from Martha’s Vineyard is the Julia Roberts of the competition? Terribly gorgeous and intriguing? Her word was “errhine” which is defined as “promoting or inducing nasal discharge.” And Noah Gershenson, who just misspelled “superaurale” is a little Brad Pitt with long luxurious hair hiding half of his face. When did spellers get so stunning? How did this become America’s Next Top Spellers?

Hold up. Did Bossy But Cute Jacques Bailly just use the words "" when he put "mandir" in a sentence? BBC Jacques acknowledging the existence of What is going on?! (Shonda)

updated, 3:36 pm: Balderdash, round 3 part 1: moquette (“a small often rounded mass consisting usually of minced tofu or tempeh coated with egg and bread crumbs and deep-fried”); quersprung (“to have been featured in the Kirby Dick documentary Outrage”); crebrity (“one whose celebrity status is credible”); and slurvian (“someone who’s had too much to drink to speak clearly.”)

Round 3, part two is live. (Adam B)

updated, 5:03 p.m. Want to know which kid's receiving the most animus right now? Walter Francis, who just got "animus". Other fortunate ones late in round three: pro-SHOOT-oh, mar-uh-SHEEN-oh, and, of course, shah-den-FROYD-uh. (Adam B)

Updated, 5:27 p.m.: Don't turn around, Kyle Wolford, DON'T TURN AROUND. Uh oh. (Isaac)

Updated 5:29: 48 Spellers are moving on to the Semifinals! More info in a moment... While we wait for the names of the semifinalists so we can begin our yearly sport of picking the winner, perhaps we should note that there are people protesting the Bee. (Shonda)
THE ALL SPELLING-BEE MISSPELLABLE NAME TEAM: +3 to each of these kids for spelling their own names right:
  • Matthew Luczaj (anyone with a TV -- is this pronounced LOOCH-zai?)
  • Mael Le Scouezec
  • Alyssa Szczypien
  • Zaib Qayyum
LUCKY FOR THE KIDS COMPETING IN WASHINGTON, THEY DON'T HAVE TO SPELL THE NAMES OF UNDERACHIEVING MARINERS INFIELDERS, SLICK FIELDING ANGELS OUTFIELDERS, AND VACILLATING VIKINGS QBS: Just in time for the Spelling Bee to heat up, 11 Points lists the bane of sports editors everywhere, 11 Athletes Whose Names Are (Or Really Seem Like) Typos.
ALLISON BLACK OF BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA, COME ON DOWN! Any moment now, the first speller will step the microphone in the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt of Washington, D.C. to begin the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The competitors are guaranteed two turns before the microphone today, and if it's like last year expect the morning to be hi mom and dad! I totally spelled this word! and the afternoon (which will be broadcast online at ESPN3 starting at 1:15p eastern) will do more to sort out the less-than-50 semifinalists from the pack.

The Bee's website and Twitter feed promises results as they happen, with AP writer Joseph White and the WaPo's Dan Steinberg expected to be tweeting from the room. We'll be updating this post as the morning progresses.

update, 8:34am: It's on! Ms. Black must feel some sense of seh-run-DIHP-uh-tee to have found such a fitting word, and the kids are 40/44 thus far. (Adam)

update 8:45 a.m.: With my own paper’s kid out in the preliminaries, I’m rooting for Esther Park of Little Rock. And amused she got “POS-um.” I wonder if the political crowd in Arkansas still gets together for their annual POS-um supper? (No, really, it’s a big event). (TPE)

update, 10 a.m.: 152 spellers so far, 137 spelling correctly. Vanya Shivashankar claims a +3, suggesting that no one is forcing yooth-uhn-AY-zhuh on her hopes just yet. (Adam)

Update 10:10 a.m.: It’s so rare that there is a word I’d actually nail, I was sorry to see J.R. Gomoll miss tra-tuh-REE-ah. Is tra-tuh-REE-ah number ten still there in Chicago? (TPE)

Update, 10:30 a.m.: Balderdash time: manciple ("a principle of conduct adhered to by dudes"), parvitude ("a state of being an exceptional manipulator and endurance challenge warrior on a reality tv competition"); gymkhana ("a new form of fighting involving 1984 Olympian Kurt Thomas and ... something Hindu something"); and huckaback ("supporter of an amiable fringe candidate"). (Adam)

Update, 10:43 a.m.: More Balderdash: metagnomy ("a state in which the short stature and brutish irritability of a character is a reference to or metaphor for the short stature and brutish irritability of the author"). (Isaac)

Update, 10:46 a.m.: Liner notes: hooray for the Decemberists ("picaresque") and Jack White ("raconteur"); boo for Simon & Garfunkel ("philippic"). (Isaac)

Update 11:16 a.m. More Balderdash (from the blog stylebook): premorse (“the emotion of grief one has when one learns that someone, whom you had assumed died years ago, has just now died.” e.g., TPE felt premorse when he heard of the well-beyond timely passing of Art Linkletter, whom he could not fathom was still alive.) (TPE)

Update, 11:33 a.m.Round 2 is complete; the spellers will be back at 1:15 p.m., and live on ESPN3 (online). We'll see what we can make of this round, and find out if Tim Ruiter enjoyed a cah-nuh-PAY at lunch. (Adam)
EYE OF THE TIGER: A. Galarraga: 9.0 IP 0 R 1 H* 0 BB 3 K; 28 UP*, 27 DOWN.

* But see, Joyce, J. "I just cost that kid a perfect game." June 2, 2010.

ETA: Joe Posnanski adds the perfect grace note to the call and its aftermath.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

NBC DOES NOT, HOWEVER, OWN THE SELF-PLEASURING PANDA: Conan O'Brien's "Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television" Tour show is fascinating enough in and of itself, but what I think is most interesting about it is what it may say about where his TBS show may go. Because Conan will no longer have a brand (Late Night or The Tonight Show), I think he can do some interesting things with the format, and tonight's show demonstrated he could do that--a little more than 2 hours of Conan-fronted show, without a single celebrity interview segment to weigh it down. (We did have cameos from Eli Manning and John Krasinski, with whom Conan informally chatted before they pulled the Walker lever, a comic interlude from Mr. Pee-Wee Herman, and some purported standup from a Conan writer who kind of reminded me of Columbus Short's character from Studio 60. (Note--this is not meant as a compliment.))

Rather than being tethered to a desk, Conan walked around the stage, enjoyed vodka and wine, did scripted comedy bits, shot the breeze with his guests and Andy, and played guitar and sang (no band joined him tonight, though Max Weinberg came out from backstage to play drums on "The Weight," the show's encore). Contrast with Jay Leno, who, if you had the unfortunate experience of viewing the earliest episodes of The Jay Leno Show, seemed utterly lost without a desk save for during the monologue. I'm wondering if Conan may try and discard things like the desk and the couch, which have been staples of talk shows for so long, and try something altogether different. I'll say that this show made me very interested to see what he has planned next. Will I watch Coco every night? No. Do I think he could do something very interesting and different with a show? Absolutely.
HERE IS JUNIOR TO THIRD BASE -- THEY'RE GOING TO WAVE HIM IN ... THE THROW TO THE PLATE WILL BE ... LATE: Ken Griffey Jr., known in Seattle, at different times, as The Kid, The Natural, Junior, and Designated Tickler, is retiring. An awful lot more after the jump:
HEY, NORTON! Almost two years ago, Eddie Murphy promised that he'd stop making movies by the time he turned fifty and return to standup comedy. We didn't believe him.

Well, he just turned 49 in April and ... Eddie Murphy says he's preparing to return to standup comedy, as he discussed with Ellen DeGeneres. "Within the last six months or so, I started getting an itch to do it again. I started writing stuff... I was like, 'I could go and do 15, 20 minutes right now. Maybe in a couple of months I'll start working out again.' But it'll take a year before I'm ready to go on the road... It's gonna take at least a year to get the rust off -- 20 years of rust."
"I REPEAT: THE JAMAICAN IS DOWN!" Every year during the Bee, my saddest moment comes when I howl the words "The Jamaican is Down!" at the TV screen. Mainly because, politically correct or not, there's a sense on the Spelling stage that the kids from Jamaica are the outsiders. I like the kids from Jamaica, I like their accents, I like the stiff, formal manners we've often seen from the Jamaican spellers. I like what's different. This year's lone Jamaican speller is Owayne Rodney, age 11. A Boy Scout, avid reader and cricket player, Owayne is, unlike the spelling stereotype, very well-rounded, a Renaissance man for the spelling ages. With 273 spellers taking the stage tomorrow, here's hoping he makes it through to be one of the 50 Spellers we enjoy on ESPN.

added: You can read about the Jamaican championship here, and his local paper has profiled Rodney as well, including a video feature below the fold:
ALTERNATE REALITIES: Yesterday I went into my usual Starbucks and it took me a moment to notice that it was the store stereo, and not my iPod, that was playing Elliott Smith's exquisite "Waltz #2." You know that feeling you get when you unexpectedly hear a moderately obscure song -- not necessarily unknown, but also not the kind of thing you'd expect to hear on the radio or covered on Idol -- that you love? It feels almost personal, like Starbucks or Shonda Rhimes or Josh Schwartz secretly dug deep into your musical fossil record, past the .aacs and the .mp3s and into the CDs, maybe to the ones you bought in longboxes, and maybe even to the vinyl/cassette strata. In the back of my head, I know that before the music reaches my ears it's wrung through a complex algorithm where art and nostalgia are only two of the inputs and commerce is several, but still. Great feeling.

Today I went into my usual Starbucks and it was playing a woman's falsetto reggae version of Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight." I guess the best gifts are precious because they're rare.
TOP 5--TRACK ONES, SIDE ONES: NPR presents a discussion of the greatest opening tracks of all time, which naturally begins with Jack Black and John Cusack's argument on the subject. They go pretty eclectic, hitting on Dylan, Sinatra, Dusty Springfield and Prince, among others. Naturally, they're following this up with closing cuts. I'll offer up "Where The Streets Have No Name" as a top opening track (especially if you look at the first 3 tracks as a unified whole), as well as "The Long Way Around," which sets the theme for Taking The Long Way very effective. As for a closing track, someone suggested "Find The River" off Automatic For The People over on the NPR site, and I'm hard pressed to do better from a contemporary album. I'm sure you have things to offer.
KEE-LA: Danville, California sixth-grader Shilpa Rao had a nine-round final duel to make nationals, but outspelled Celina Diosa when Celina missed unau (a two-toed sloth), and Shilpa picked finished out with "KEE-LA" a South American bamboo.

Here's hoping my local favorite and Contra Costa Times sponsoree makes it into the final round and goes deep. Danville previously produced (and the Times sponsored) 2007 champion Evan O'Dorney.
FROM THE SECOND TSUNAMI ALBUM (THANK YOU, JENNY TOOMEY!), IT'S THE RAPID REITERATION OF A MUSICAL TONE: Today, the 273 spellers will begin their competition with the computerized round. At assigned times throughout the day, they'll be given a set list of fifty words to spell, typing their answers -- with pronunciations and the like being made available. Of those fifty, a preselected list of twenty-five will count for the competition, and as the Rules make clear a speller will be disqualified if "prior to the conclusion of the preliminaries on June 3, [he or she] discloses any portion of the Round One test content to a Web site or individual, including a parent or legal guardian."

So don't leak it to us. Competitors will receive one point for each word spelled correctly of the 25, and then tomorrow each gets two trips to the microphone worth three points each, and if it's like last year it's one round of smiling and success in front of the parents (posts 1, 2) and then something of an abattoir of young hopes. From there, "Spellers' scores are plotted on a chart. Beginning at 31 on the chart, spellers at each consecutive scoring level are added until a sum of no more than 50 spellers has been attained. All remaining spellers are eliminated. All spellers eliminated prior to the semifinals are tied for the same place."

In the meantime, from the archives are our summaries of the 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 written/computerized rounds for your amusement. And one more coverage note: we're thrilled to share the news that 2008 finalist Cat Cojocaru will be back again to lend her insight this week.
I'LL TAKE "FAMOUS PHILADELPHIA CRIMINALS OF THE MID-AUGHTS" FOR $800, ALEX: Today's Philadelphia Daily News checks in with former City Councilman Rick Mariano (corruption, still incarcerated) and former Queen Village restaurateur Susanna Goihman (drunken vehicular homicide, paroled Sunday).

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

WE WILL COVER THE END OF THE WORLD, LIVE: With a 25-person staff, CNN first went on the air 30 years ago today with Ted Turner's words in the tagline. Over that 30 years, CNN has, along with the rest of the news business, transformed from the original "2 people behind a desk" format to the technological wonderland of holograms and magic screens that they'll bust out on election night, has spawned at least a couple of clones and become a political and pop cultural institution. Without getting overtly political, talk to and (if you can) link the video--though it's not newsworthy, I'll have to go with Rick Sanchez getting tasered.
CONSIDER YOURSELF INFORMED: Among the third-timers returning to the Bee this year is Rahul Malayappan of Danbury, Conn. I note this because Rahul and his father Ramesh maintain Rahul's Hive, a spelling-centric blog, which was a joy to follow last year and remains one now. Among the posts is a nice update the status of returning spellers (including links to the local articles on their regional Bees) and a rather strong takedown of a newspaper columnist's complaint that kids who have only been in America for "16 minutes" are doing so well in the Bee. Bookmark it.

Also, a note on a rather interesting rule change: as opposed to previous years in which all 22 Canadian regional winners qualified for the Scripps National Bee, for 2010 only the Canadian national champion will compete in Washington. You can read about Laura Newcombe's journey to her second Canspell title here, but the sad part for regular readers of our coverage is that it means an end to one of our favorite traditions, the annual Canadian Bloodbath Round -- whichever rounds sees the most of our NttN fall, a round we've described in the past as:
"The worst Canadian disaster since Glass Tiger broke up," "the worst Canadian disaster since Thicke of the Night," "must be like what it was like when the Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets left the country," "like when Neil Young moved to Topanga Canyon," "like when Vince Carter started mailing it in so that he could get traded to New Jersey" and "like Eric Lindros insisting to the Nordiques that he wanted to play for the Flyers," "the worst day for ONttN this year, even more so than Steven Page's leaving Barenaked Ladies" and of which Shonda said in 2008:

"The Canadians fall, the Canadians fall, the Canadians fall like trees. It's a Spelling Bee Battle Field -- these poor Canadians rushing to the microphone only to be beaten back with a horrifying ding. Were they not prepared for the rigors of TV? The joy of ESPN? Because these words did not seem particularly hard to me. But just like that, we have lost SIX CANADIANS IN A ROW. ALL THE CANADIANS ARE GONE. It's tragic. Oh, Canada..."

Monday, May 31, 2010

FROM THIS TINY MALAYSIAN FISHING VILLAGE, THESE SIXTEEN AMERICANS ARE BEGINNING THE ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME: Ten years ago at this moment, Survivor aired for the first time. (Watch it here.) TVTattle has its original coverage up (including David Bianculli's prescient "'Survivor' is the rare sort of TV show, though, that will increase in appeal each week as the stakes get higher, and the word of mouth gets even louder,") and you'll also enjoy Chronological Snobbery's post, which includes a ton of links to topics like "Gervase X" and Sonja Christopher's day-after appearance on The Daily Show, as well as this from his review of episode one:
It's not unlike watching those old black and white silent films from the 1910s, in that you know you are watching something influential and groundbreaking for its time, but its innovations have so much become a part of the culture and improved upon in the mean time that it is almost tedious to watch in its first incarnation.
As a special anniversary treat, Andy Denhart publishes the actual Survivor rules for the first time. It's fascinating.
LAST YEAR, HE WAS ANONYMOUS. THIS YEAR, HE'S A CELEBRITY: Looking for a favorite in the 2010 Scripps National Spelling Bee? The AP profiles 2009 runner-up Tim Ruiter, a home-schooled eighth grade student from Centreville, Va.:

The stereotype that emphatically fits Tim — as well as nearly everyone else at the bee — is the one that can't be avoided: the nerd factor.

The nerd issue came up recently when Tim, filling out a questionnaire for the bee, wrote down Spock from "Star Trek" as his role model.

"We were like, 'You can't put that down, people are going to think you're a nerd,'" Jon Ruiter said. "And he said, 'Helloooo.'"

"He said, 'I'm in the National Spelling Bee. I'm already not cool, OK? There's my nerd factor already,'" Vicki Ruiter said.

However, even nerd-dom can go too far. Last year, Tim wrote in his bio that he does an impersonation of the unusual character Gollum from "Lord of the Rings." Even though his father says the portrayal is "spot on," Tim looks thoroughly embarrassed and sits silently when the subject is broached.

YOU CAN STOP HELPING NOW, JEFF: There is much odd about Prince of Persia: The Sands Of Time--Jake Gyllenhaal's variable accent, the apparent repeated direction of Gemma Arterton to be stiffer and more mannered, the idea that we're going to believe for one minute that Ben Kingsley's character isn't the bad guy, what's up with Alfred Molina's teeth, and the fact that the final ten minutes of the film turns into a political ramble. But that's not what I want to talk about--I want to talk about an issue posed by one piece of casting--that of Richard Coyle as one of the Princes of Persia. Coyle isn't that well-known on these shores, but for those who've seen Coupling, he is and will always be Jeff Murdock. Jeff, who's Barney Stinson's unsuccessful peer, has theories to explain everything--introducing us to the Giggle Loop, the Melty Man, and the Sock Gap (note, clips 2 and 3 are questionably SFW--no nudity or profanity, but frank sexual talk). Even when he's attempting to be all bold and soldiery, I still hear Jeff. For instance, at point, his character shouts "no man can stop us!" (or something similar). My immediate response was, naturally, "what about the Melty Man?"

The question I have is are there similar actors in the U.S. who are so identified with a single role that we can't see them elsewhere without that coming to mind? The closest I can think of is David Schwimmer, who, in his brief appearance in Band of Brothers, far removed in time and place from Friends, never manages to be anything other than Ross Geller (oddly, not all the Friends fell victim to this--Matthew Perry and Lisa Kudrow in particular have shown decent range).
WHAT IS A LION? Having finally caught up on the last couple of episodes of this season of Friday Night Lights, I wanted to say a few things. First, in no small part because of the substantial rebooting this season involved, this is shaping up to be the strongest season since the first. While we've lost some interesting characters (Tyra, Jason Street), we've also lost some performing deadwood (Minka Kelly, who, while exceedingly nice to look at and much improved over the three seasons, wasn't playing on the level of the rest of the cast), and the new cast members have proven quite solid. Second, I would watch an entire show that is nothing but Tim Riggins doing things that aren't quite appropriate for him to be doing (dress shopping, explaining Broadway theatre, etc.)--comic gold, I tell you. (And he can take off his shirt from time to time, to cover appeal to that segment of the audience).

Third, because of the East/West divide introduced into the show this year (paralleling the real-life Midland/Odessa divide that's a big part of the original book), the show has found a new way to explore issues of race and class. Now, such issues have typically been the domain of HBO (particularly the David Simon shows), though they find their way on to networks from time to time (Izzie's background on Grey's, Foreman's backstory on House, and some very mild stuff on Good Wife), but rarely in such depth. Credit is also due to the FNL crew for doing it without beating any political message over our head (though I understand there's some pretty expressly political stuff, albeit not on the race/class front, coming down the pike). And, as always, really nice work from Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton is just anchoring the show.