The National Spelling Bee Is a Ridiculous Mess

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national spelling bee

It’s the final day of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, an annual competition of our nation’s (and beyond’s) best young spellers that began Tuesday, and none of Maryland’s 11 representatives remains in the contention. That is total garbage. My beef is not with the spellers, of course, but with this sorry excuse for a bee!

When I was of spelling age, the National Spelling Bee was just that: a spelling bee! Kids attempt to spell one word at a time, in turn, on a stage. Spell it incorrectly, you’re out. Spell it correctly, you sit back in your chair and try not to die of boredom and/or anxiety before it’s your turn again. It goes like that basically until the end.

But that is no longer so. Now, competition begins with the 281 spellers taking a written spelling test of 24 words (12 of which count) and written, multiple-choice vocabulary test. A vocabulary test!? Get real! When I was 14, you could have shoved my head into a toilet bowl and I’d tap out the spelling to “sybaritic” in Morse code with the flush lever, but I did not — and still do not — know what it means. A vocabulary test at the National Spelling Bee is in poor taste, but it gets worse from there.

Rounds 2 and 3 almost look like traditional oral bee rounds. All 281 spellers participate, and if you spell your word wrong, you are eliminated (no matter how well you did on the written spelling and vocabulary tests). But in each round they tack on a single multiple choice vocabulary question, unique to each speller. Yuck!

After Round 3, scores are tallied. You get one point for every correct answer that counted in the written test and three points for each word you spelled correctly in the oral rounds (nevermind that if you didn’t spell them both correctly you would already have been eliminated). They invite the top 50 or fewer spellers to continue. If that all sounds convoluted, it is. But here’s my point: in this mutant version of a spelling bee, A SPELLER CAN BE ELIMINATED FROM THE BEE WITHOUT HAVING SPELLED INCORRECTLY ANY WORD PUT TO HER IN ACTUAL ORAL COMPETITION!

Such was the case for Baltimore speller Danyah Imam, who spelled “bobadil” and “halcyon” correctly in oral rounds, for Bethesda’s Nikita Singh, who did so for “hartebeest” and “plangency,” for Megan Rabe who sailed past “bezoar” and “novercal,” for Frederick’s Stephen Hochschild, who dispatched “exacerbate” and “megrims,” for Laurel’s Tamya Matthews, who nailed “shrieval” and “osteopath,” for Frederick’s Selena Antosh, who made it through “Weissnichtwo” and “nattily,” for Princess Anne’s Gia Lauren Bautista, who was unfazed by “infinitesimal” and “zydeco,” and for Waldorf’s Aashka Patel, who made no errors with “sachem” and “armamentarium.”


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  1. I too am OUTRAGED!! I couldn’t have begun to spell most of the words our brave Maryland kids rattled off with aplomb. And I don’t even understand the method being employed — it’s a conspiracy! Go get ’em, Robert!

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