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Retro THF: The Spelling Bee

Note: Originally posted June 2nd, 2006.

A 13 year old girl from New Jersey has won the Scripps Spelling Bee. Katharine Close spelled some word which she will probably never again use in her life but hey it was good for the gold last night. Close beat out Finola Mei Hwa Hackett of Canada and Saryn Hooks of Taylorsville, NC who got royally screwed by the judges for saying she missed a word she actually spelled right. Now how does that happen? Don't the judges have the word in front of them? I am unsure how she can spell the word correctly and the judges dismiss her when one would think they have the word written down in front of them? Also, I did not know there was instant replay in the Scripps Spelling Bee. Apparently it is more like the college football system where the officials make the call. Can you imagine the excitement if the parents could challenge like NFL coaches do?

Because it is a competition ESPN usually covers the Bee and for the first time ABC showed it in prime time. I actually could do with even more sports related references during the Bee which would undoubtedly make it more entertaining:

Play by Play Announcers

Get one of the notorious loundmouth guys to do the Bee. Can you imagine Dick Vitale doing color analysis.

"Robin I really like this kid, Rajiv Tarigopula, he is major PTPer. Did you see they way he parsed the etymology on that word? Awesome baby with a capital A!!!! I am convinced he is going to be a BMOC, Big Man on Campus. In fact he looks like Duke material to me, they should have him try and spell Krzyzewski! Let me tell you something Coach K is one of premiere basketball coaches in this country."

Or go for something like the play-by-play rambling of Bill Murray's groundskeeper character in Caddyshack

"The word is 'ursprache' Close is mulling it over. The Cinderalla story, was unable to talk until she was three, about to become the Scripps Spelling Bee Champion.......She got it right! She got it right!

More Pronounced Reactions from Contestants and Parents

An interview following elmination:

"I have seen better #$&%*^ judges at elementary school spelling bees. I mean every word I got was either from Scandanavian or French origin and everyone knows I am much stronger on the Greek origins. It was clear the ^*&+#$@ Scripps people were sick and tired Indians winning the contest."

Or when Saryn Hook was mistakenly eliminated it would have been fun if her parents stood up and starting yelling at the judges Coach K-style:

"That's bull***t, that it total bull***t. How can you--She spelled it right! She got the f---ing spelling right and you are too f--ing stupid to realize it? There is no f---ing second "s" in the f---ing word. You killed us. You f---ing killed us."

I think if a kid got a word right he or she should scream like Alonzo Mourning does after doing, well anything, or have some ten year old kid spell the word and then as he is walking back get in the face of one of the other contestants and say something like, "Come and get some!"

I would have paid to see the winner, Close, pump her fist Tiger Woods-like when she won. Then she could have jumped up on the judges table with her arms in the air. When they gave her the trophy she could have either sat their kissing it like MJ did when he won his first NBA title or walk around the room hold it in the air. Collapsing face down on the floor in a heap of tears would have worked too.

More Post Spelling Bee Follow up Stories

ABC actually has an article on their web site about past participants but it is all good news. I want to hear about the kid who following his crushing defeat at the hands of some obscure 13 letter noun of Russian origin is thrown out of his house for failing and ends up homeless.

How about someone who won the contest at age 11 and then proceeded to blow the prize money on Power Ranger action figures.

There is also the story of that fourth or fifth grader who does so well he thinks he can make the jump straight to high school only to drop out by the second year and is now selling mortgages out of some strip mall location on the bad side of town.

Then there is the kid who had a lot of promise, actually finished in the top 10 twice and won it all his last year who ends up only pulling B+ averages in high school, gets a chance to attend a major university but eventually transfers to the local community college and is now a manager at the Home Depot.

Some Final Random Thoughts

I hope Katharine Close has some quality people protecting her "brand." In fact she should probably ink at least one or two endorsement deals right now. My best advice for Close comes from the immortal Venus Flytrap on WKRP in Cincinnati who said(while drunk), "Go pro, skip the Olympics!"

Seriously, if I was Saryn Woods I would file some kind of greviance with the Spelling Bee people. Winning this thing takes some serious concentration and to toss her out and then bring her back undoubtedly threw her off her game. And again, how can the judges not know whether or not she got the word right? If they do not know then who does?

If Scripps wants to have this thing really take off they should come up with things like rankings and even find a way they can put the contest in a tournament bracket. Since ESPN's ultra hype machine is on board you would have little trouble getting the Bee to be as big as the NCAA Women's Tournament. You should also add some competitions throughout the year to generate some win-loss records and stats to be followed. The fantasy league would not be far behind.

Of course if you did all of that you would also need to start testing for performance enhancing drugs. We all know that the point it becomes big money parents, teachers, and contestants alike will be looking for that "edge" by taking drugs to improve their memory. Scripps would need to do random drug test to see if contestants had unusually high levels of B-12 or ginseng in their system. In fact they should look into this now. Do not make the same mistake MLB made and turn a blind eye to the use of performance enhancers. Sooner or later you will get some kid who has won a record three straight titles going for a fourth only to find out he has been juicing it up since he was eight.