Thursday, May 31, 2012

2011 National Spelling Bee Running Diary

You're looking LIVE at the, err, Hilton?  Maybe the Sheraton?  Anyway, we're in DC, though you couldn't tell from this boring convention hall.  Why bother having this in DC if its not, ya know, at the Lincoln Memorial?  Who would object to that?  Kids come up the steps to spell words until one wins and they go Forrest Gump into the reflecting pool?

Out come the spellers - HORRIBLE decision to do away with the matching shirts.  That made it look, ya know, more fair.

Cut to the the cool collage of kids in different onscreen-boxes 'passing' letters back and forth.  I think I like the bee more than any other competitive TV event because I can't IMAGINE another possible way to put 50 10-12 year olds on screen that wouldn't be unwatchable.  Its the least telegenic age, at which you are the ugliest, least confident, least well-behaved, BY FAR the least charming or funny that you will ever be, and you still suck at whatever sport you might one day be good at.  It's the worst time of life - except for spelling.  Its the only thing that, by this age, you can have completely mastered that seems grownup.

and here's the INCREDIBLY cheesy animation of a swarm of bees - BEES!  GET IT! - swarming around the nation.

And let's meet the finalist - Veronica Penny, who has won TWO jelly bean counting constest.  hivva from Devner.  Lilly, tall blonde, from Maine- she's five years from an Ivy crew team.  No chance today.

Dakota Jones, a boy with traintrack braces, from Vegas.  Boys don't win.  Kids from Vegas don't win.  Kids named Dakota that aren't Dakota Patel never win.  I'm calling him the longest shot in the field.

Laure Newcombe, 5th place last year, Canadian.  An early favorite.
Canadian Menace

Prakash from North Carolina - every field has one kid with the pre-16 mustache, and that's him.  He looks ready.  Let's see.

Sukanya Roy from PA... uh oh.  She had that shut-in vibe.  Terrifying.

Up comes Laura Newcombe, the Canadian - she knocks down a french word.  That seems unfair.

Now come Veronica Penny, the Canuck jelly bean queen.  Her video intro is about reading self help books.  She's nervous-smart.  CIOPPINO.  She runs through the questions...  she asks for language of origin twice.  That's one of the two stall tactics kids use: asking for language of origin, and asking if it comes from a certain root word in some language.  Sometimes its a stall, sometimes its just showing off.  This one doesn't help because apparently this is some fish dish found in any italian restuarant.  Announcer says Veronica is like a slap hitter who likes to use these questions to work the count - her average answer time is 2:10, which is WAY long.
And she knocks it down.

As the announcers chatter away, its clear they've decided to make the same mistake they made last year - give us more facetime with the boring grownups and less watching kids sweat.

OK, here comes Dhivvya from Denver.  And she just outright sneezes into her elbow and keeps going!  Love her!  She's 10!  Youngest remaining speller, only finalist on stage who is in thier first Bee!  We love Dhivvya!

The willowy blonde from maine gets Cassiopeian, which is a friggin well known constellation.  that's like drawing the Sunbelt champ in the first round of the NCAAs.  if she doesn't get an extinct batecteria with two silent Us in the next round, we'll know the fix is in.

Alright here comes Dakota, who seems like a nice kid.  THey have a bunch of interviews and clips of him at home in vegas, which is REALLY funny if you watch a lot of non-traditional sports because the only other time you see 'athlete at home' clips in distinctively Vegas settings is BMX or UFC guys.
  He gets Andouille, as in the sausage.  Boom.  Dakota is through.

Nabeel, who I think i'm just gonna call Axel cuz he from Buffalo.   He gets scelidosaur, which is a dinosaur and what geeky kid doesn't know dinosaur words?  Disappointing level of difficulty so far.

Sriram from NY is in his 3rd bee - his first when he was EIGHT.  EIGHT!!!  Now he's 11, a cagey vet.  Exsufflation - he knew it as soon as the guy said it.

Here comes Arvind, the co-favorite.  And... wow.  Now I see why.  He got 'profiterole" and he and the announcer went back and forth about 4 times on the pronunciation.  He's got kind of a nasaly drone that was hurting him as he tried to say the final "role"  - so the bee lady (who rarely speaks except when there's trouble) was all, "listen to the last part" all bitchy, and the announcer goes "rul" and the kid just goes down to, like, Big Bopper range, and goel "RUUULLLL" and everyone laughs but you could tell he was pissed off about it and if you weren't sure, he let you know with the most gangsta bee move possible - he spelled it.  No 'language  or origin,' no 'part of speech' not even a repronouncing....  No stall, no hesitation, just spelled it.  He was halfway back to his seat before the crowd applauded.
  You listen to the last part, lady.  I got words to spell.

Here comes Joanna Ye who is a bit older, seems cute and funny and completely mature and is wearing a skirt and actually has a different haircut from last year, and therefore has NO SHOT TODAY.

Back for Round 2 after what was a pretty bloodless round 1.  Here comes Laura Newcombe, the Canadian veteran.  Attacca.  Shes getting a little sniffy with her pronunciation.  I think she's just vamping a bit with her last couple 'can i have it in a sentence'-ing. You know this one, sweetie.  Act like you've been here before.

Wow.  THey just did a graphic of winners by State.  Ohio has 9, Colorado, Texas, PA and Tennessee have 7.  Interesting.

Up comes the Jelly Bean, and she starts through her Miranda Warning of questions, stretching it out....   let's see.  Wait, she's home school, too.  So who was she beating in the jelly bean contests?  UPS guys?  Apparently, she and her mom take the bee so seriously, they moved last year to be in a district with a qualifying bee.  Wow, its not enough that while awful rich people will flee your town for better schools, they'll flee your town even if they are HOME SCHOOLED if you don't have a good spelling bee!  WHAT ABOUT THAT, MICHELLE RHEE!
  OK, she's through, up comes Dhivvya from Denver.  She nails a French word, which the guy says is a big deal for a 10 year old.

Lily from Maine.   Look, let's not make a big deal about it, but if for some reason it was mandatory to fill out an Is She Hot checklist, Lily is getting at least check-minus in everybox, but no "Needs Work".
  Running out of time on Phanerogram - she starts with F!  Thats a rare one, where the kids misses the first letter and you and the audience KNOW she's out even as she plows through the word.  Dad and mom greet her with not near enough love.  Just have a seat, 'good job honey' and a backrub from dad - come on, mom and dad, she just got bumped on ESPN!  Hug or something!  Are you THAT WHITE?

Dakota rolls through one with a tinfoil grin.

Up comes Detective Foley, and he seems a little stumped.  DING dockmackie got him...  he has a seat next to his dad who, I will bet you my house, is an opthamologist.

Hand Scribble.  Old School.

We're down to 10!

Here are the Hidden talents they bring to the table:
- Jake can do the RUbiks cube in 1m
- this kid can do 70 digits of pie
- this kid can do balloon animals
- a girl with a 'bad christopher walken' impression (which makes it a GREAT Christopher Walken impression)!
- this kid can - and does on tape - put his ankles behind his heads.  Could have just ended that on Walken.

Here comes Sriram, the former 8-yo qualifier.  Boom
Now comes Arvind, and you can bet she won't be telling him to listen to the last part again - and he's TAUNTING the judges now.  One thing they can do is ask 'does it have the greek root 'blah' meaing 'whatever' " and they get a yes or no answer.  From bees I've seen, if a kid asks that, they already know it, and they're basicly doing a dance over the last 10 yards to the endzone.  Arvind asks for 2 of them, then knocks it down like he's bored.

Down goes Pretash!  Carolina is OUT.  Announcer said it was a wierd word with no clues in the roots, he either would know it from study or he wouldn't and he didn't.  Down to 9!

Joanna Ye.  She hits a Dutch word... and apparently got a PERFECT score in the written round, which never happens.

Here's our Pennsylvania lurker.  Seems to be a sea change this year with almost no hand-scribblers on stage except her.  That was turning into the geeky-kid fistbump the last few years.  Glad its gone away.

She gets it, up comes Mashad, who with the one-hand grab nails his.

Top of the order for round 10 (going back to yesterday) and up comes Laura - she's enjoying the moment. Good for her.  Ingerbach - boom, she's through.

Veronica Penny gets a parasite for grapes.

And sadly, i don't know how it went, because the DVR did a hiccup, but I can tell you that Divvya from Denver then went down SWINGING, barely missing on some crazy latin word and bawling into her moms arms, the first tears of the night.  How is she only 10 and she cares more than anyone else so far?  Come back and kick its ass, Divvyah from Denver.

And with that, Dakota's braces nails gravivembalo.

YIKES!!!  Down goes our former-8yo favorite.  He's not happy and neither is his parents.

They are dropping like flies, with 3 of the last 4 out, and into the teeth of the storm, comes Arvind. Can he to stop the bleeding?!?!  DRAMA.

And the lady has the nerve to chastise his pronounciation again!  Now he's in a rage.  If this is supercalifragilisticexpalidotious, he's still not missing this.  EPIPODIALE - and he looks right in the lady's eyes as he finishes it!  Arvind will take the wrench, Spelling Bee lady! This is like McEnroe screaming at the Wimbledon umpire.  He is going to win the trophy and use it to bar the exits when he sets the building on fire.

Ye and Sunkaya come up to the microphone looking for a place to hide after the Arvind melee, spell thier words quick as they can and sprint back to their seat.

Microphone Stand Mishad is up....  he gets a Turkish word which HAS to suck cuz they only replaced their entire alphabet last century.  Samiel.  Its tricky-easy.  And apparently this kid is from near the Mexican border.  Well, as the announcer says, "when in doubt, sound it out..."
  He adds a Y and - DING - he;s out.  We're down to 5, or rather we're down to 6, which includes Arvind's Dark Passenger.

It's Laura (Canadian, 5th last year), Dakota from Vegas (upset!), Sunykaya the lurker, Ye who looks 23 and Arvind.

and up comes Laura, the last real player between Arvind, the trophy and him going Sissy Spacek. "Katchokivalo"  Its a cheese.  She got it - Oh Canada!

Dakota - he's so happy to be here.  No obvious nerves.  Zortzico.  He didn't know it but he got it, and the first obvious 'shit i had no clue'-reaction of the night.

Arvind.  Uayeb.  "WHY-eb".  He's in front of the mic all of 7 seconds.  He's in Barcelona-soccer mode, grinding now, just wearing out the other spellers' legs.

But Ye answers with capercaillie!  Ye may be here to stay.  Maybe we're ready for a winner who looks like she's at Stanford Law.

The lurker scribbles her hand through rapakivi.  no problem.

12th round - Laura starts us off....  whoa, they give her one word, then switch.  Some backroom screw up.  SUPER FISHY!  She lands Cheongsam and hits it, no worries.

Dakota - he's the only one left who doesn't seem like a possible winner.   Sarangousty...  boom.  Wow.

Arvind.  asks 1 question.  then 2.  Could he not know it?- nope.  Nailed it after 3 quetions.  Opedildoc.

Ye - Karpas, no problem.

Sukanya - lakatoi, a papua guinea word for a canoe.  surely this gets her, right?  Nope.  she got it.

10 straight winners.  here comes laura for round 13!

WOW!  Laura from Canada 'informs' the annoucner that Mexico is not in Asia after he misspeaks in answer to a question.  She and arvind are trying to make the announcer cry.  its the only explaination.

Dakota rolls on.

Arvind.  solferino - actually says, "YES!" as he turns to walk off.

Joanna Ye...  Keitloa.

THe Lurker - on a night NOT for lurkers.  She nails it and on we go.

Well, these kids aren't getting tripped by the 'hard short ones.  Let's see if the judges adjust.

Down goes Dakota but he's the only one.  The kids are on a roll.  I may have to go to bed and finish up later.
ROund 17, same 4 - Laura and ARvind are chasing each other around a table with drawn knives, with Ye and the lurker kind of jumping sideways to avoid them.  Lets see how this ends....

Scene from the melee.

ARVIND IS OUT!  Jugegenstil!  Slient J!  YOU-GUN-STEAL!  THe anncouncer actualy jokes of the pronounciation, "you gon' steal that trophy?"

"OH," he says.  "A silent letter!"

He misses the J.  Unbelievable. the entire room comes to its feet, including the three remaining.  He gets a solid 20 second ovation.

DOWN GOES YE!  She misses ALOUBET.  A kind of flute!  And she's a FLUTE PLAYER!!!


Here comes Sukanya - if she misses, its over!  Wow, the Bee always delivers!!!  Sukanya's voice catches... this moment is unbearable!

Naumkeag...  BOOM!  She nails it, and we're down to 2 (had she missed it, and Laura missed a 'clinching' word, then we would have had all 4 back up there).

So this is it - the Canadian favorite, and Sukanya.  Its easy to think this is already over, since Laura seems to have won her duel with Arvin, but Sukkanya drafted and lurked her way to the final two.  All she needs is one strong move here to win it.

Laura hits Hooroosh.  Lets see if Sukanya answers...  Ogreat.  Next round.

Canadian... "sorites"  and she guesses a SILENT P to start!!!!  WRONG!!!!  Wow!  That was so fast!  I'm delerious!

Here come Sukanya - she has to spell 2 in a row win - one to win the round, one to clinch, the win-by-2 of Spelling rules.

Drafting all day, just hanging at the periphery, she comes out around the leader and - BOOM nails the first word - SHE'S SPRINTING TO THE LINE!

"sy-motricus' - she sounds like she knows it...  she asks a few questions...

and C Y M O T R I C H O U S - GO CRAZY!!!!!!  SUKANYA!!!  FROM the back of the peliton, in the final stretch!!!!

she's shaking and she can't even hold the trophy, she's about to fall over.  So am I.

there's a strange quite in the crowd.  in fact, i'll just say its stunned silence.  Of the final 9 - definetly the strong final 4 - she was the least likely, but she reeled them all in.

THat's why its awesome every year.

Final thought:  that was one of the premier mental duels in sports history, and the proof is that of the two who fought it, neither won.

From about the cut to 9 on it was clear that Arvind and Laura were pretty content - even excited - to turn hot laps and swap the lead until everyone else fell out.  It worked as they went to 5, where even through 3 perfect rounds the others seemed rattled or timid or overwhelmed while they just knocked theirs down, having fun.

THen Dakota fell off, and they turned a few more laps with Sukyana and Ye in line behind them.

THen it happened:  Arvind got a German word that started with a silent letter, J.  He failed to detect it and suddenly Laura was rushing into the open, free and clear with just Sukyana to shake.  It must have felt scary for Laura to suddenly be that alone, because 2 words later she got her first choppy spot - first one she didn't know - and what did she do?  She ADDED a silent letter at the start!
Arvind's final act of vengence!
He had to lose to do it, but he bluffed her into a silly mistake!

When Sukyana crossed the line it was her first view past her windshield all day.


What.  Just.  Happened?