I fell down the televised Bee rabbit hole when I was in eighth grade, home with strep throat on the day of the finals. A few (ahem) years later, I was once again home, this time from work, and this this time with an improbably horrible ear infection (current feeling: that part of Godspell when Jesus caterwauls “Oh Go-ohhhd, I’m dy-y-ing!”) The Bee is the best sick day viewing ever: repetitive, soothing, and lengthy, which is great for when you’re so ill that you’re too apathetic to change the channel. Not to mention, there’s nothing more calming than the gentle monotone of Jacques Bailly, except perhaps for Jacques Bailly conversing with Terry Gross.
However, you don’t have to have an infectious disease to appreciate the Scripps National Spelling Bee. It seems like every year more and more people watch it, so I’m sure we have plenty of readers who appreciated these Spelling Bee Superlatives as much as I did. With these categories, almost everyone’s a winner!
Actual Winners: Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe
[But, REAL Actual Winners: All Of Us]
Every year when I watch the Bee, I wish there was a way for everyone to win. There isn’t. But TWO kids winning is pretty great, right? Watching the word list dwindle, I hoped against hope they’d both keep answering correctly. Maybe I’m wrong – I’ve never been a 14-year-old boy, after all – but for the kids, it seems like it would actually be more fun to win with somebody than by yourself.
And no, they do not have to split the $30K grand prize.
Best Dressed: Brayden Kelley
I mean. He was wearing a bespoke camo suit-jacket with rockabilly-styled lapels. Is it really even a question?
Best Vest: Ansun Sujoe
I’d say that any competition in which you stand to win $30,000 merits your first-string wardrobe. I think Ansun would say so, too.
Best Name: Caribbean Sea’Era Adams
Caribbean is a word I’ve never run across as a name before, so I’m going to guess this contestant got her love of words from her parents.
Michaela didn’t make the finals, so you may have missed this story: she has lived in Japan her whole life, which means that she is probably a better speller than you in at least two languages.
Best Accent: Tajaun Gibbison
Tajaun, a polite eighth grader making his first appearance at the Bee, hails from Jamaica.
Best Sample Sentence
This year, the Scripps folks made a concerted effort to incorporate some more humorous sentences. E.g.: “Pampootie is as uncomfortable to say in public as it is to wear in public.” But the funniest of all was probably the sentence Dr. Jacques Bailly didn’t get to finish. While reading feijoada, which is some kind of Brazilian bean dish, Bailly began reading “Tabitha discovered that her milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,” and was summarily cut off. I am dying to know how that was possibly all going to come together.
Most Enthusiastic Speller: Jacob Williamson.
This kid squealed with glee when he got words right, and ran to the stage with the force of 10 Price Is Right contestants when he was announced as a finalist. It was fun to see a kid act like this was the most exciting moment of his life, because face it, it probably was. If you watched the Bee, you know that you really can’t categorize the spellers as one particular kind of kid. But if Central Casting had to come up with an enthusiastic Bee kid, Jacob would be it.
Best (Worst?) Peripeteia: Jacob Williamson, again.
Want to see the elation of victory turned, in a matter of seconds, into the agony of defeat? Yeah, me either – but I saw it anyway, when Jacob Williamson KNEW kabarogoya, until he … didn’t. My theory: he correctly remembered that it was an “easy one” – a word spelled almost phonetically – but, alas, forgot about that whole c/k thing.
Biggest Upset: Vanya Shivashankar
Vanya competed in the 2010, 2012, and 2013 finals. Her big sister, Kavya, was the 2009 champion. [For those of us who don’t think 2009 was that long ago: Kavya is off to college next year.] She appeared in almost every pre-recorded ESPN Bee promotion. The stars seemed to be aligned for Vanya to make the finals tonight – and possibly take home the big set of Merriam Websters- but it wasn’t to be. Blame it on the additional computerized tests.
Happiest Speller: Alia Abiad
She wasn’t over-the-top excited like Jacob, but wasn’t Alia just sunny? Abiad has only been spelling for a few years and advanced to 5th place last night.
Thing The Bee Maybe Needs To Work On: Makeup
Most of the kids looked great, but when they got to the interviews after being dinged out, some of the boys had telltale foundation lines around their necks. What worked under the harsh stage lights didn’t under the gentler interview lighting.
Worst Spoilers: The Scripps Twitter Feed
Am I the only one whose ESPN broadcast was about 25 seconds behind Twitter? Results were announced before the kid had even finished spelling.
Most Unnecessary ESPN Shot: The Bell
When a kid got dinged out, they used this weird camera angle where you were looking up at the bell ringer. It was almost like you WERE the bell. It was weird, and way too dramatic.
Most Composed: Kate Miller
What do you do when you are eliminated from a national competition? Probably give a really calm, collected interview in which you scrupulously avoid ending a sentence with a preposition, right? This is clearly a kid who knew when she was on camera.
Best Nails: Mary Horton
I kept wondering why I wanted to call Mary Horton “Mary Horton Mary Horton” until I realized I was thinking of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Anyway. Cute nails, right?
Saddest Moment: Realizing That Almost Every One Of These Kids Was Born In The New Millenium
There was one 15-year-old, but most eighth graders – the oldest kids eligible to compete – are 13 or 14. A child born in 1999 would have turned 14 before January 1, so most of them would be in 9th grade now. Yikes.