I can still spell euonym
Today marks the second day of competition in the 2006 Scripps National Spelling Bee. The spelling bee has become a pop culture phenomenon: it airs on ESPN and ABC (my DVR is set), the great Bill Simmons has written about it, South Park has skewered it, it is the subject of a Tony-award winning musical, and two movies about it (Bee Season and Akeela and the Bee) were released in the past year.
I was thrilled to find out this weekend that the Bee is actually held in Washington, DC. I was not quite as thrilled to learn that it is closed to the public. I may try to head over to the Hyatt in an attempt to get in with the media. Will popculturejunkette.blogspot.com be enough to get me in? I hope so. If not, I am seriously considering calling a friend who works at a Gannett paper and offering to write a story on my experience freelance if he can get me in. I need to see this in person.
Everyone who has ever watched the Spelling Bee knows that it can truly be high comedy--after all, it not only features kids at the most awkward age of adolescence (most of the spellers are 13 or 14 years old), but those in the Bee tend to be nerdier than most of their peers (after all, they are in the spelling bee), many are homeschooled and there is a wealth of stage parents sitting nervously in the audience for the camera to pan over to. The entire spectacle should not be missed. Everyone who has watched seems to have their favorite moment. I know that many people were enamored with 2004's Akshay Buddiga, who began spelling his word, fainted, fell to the ground, got up and finished spelling the word. He came in second place. And he'll be back this year.
Personally, I have a special place in my heart for 1997 champion Rebecca Sealfon. I was at home (I was in high school at the time), and my brother called to me to turn on ESPN. I did and saw that the final rounds of the Bee were on. I immediately knew why my brother wanted me to watch--although the Bee features some really strange 13 and 14 year olds, none was stranger than Sealfon. She, like everyone else, wore a spelling bee tee-shirt, but hers went to her knees, making it appear that she had arrived to the Bee in her nightshirt. When it was her turn to spell, she would cover her mouth with her hands, remove her hands, bleat out a letter, cover her mouth again, remove her hands again, bleat out another letter, and on and on, until the word was complete. She did this every single time she had a turn.
When it was finally her chance to win the championship, she was asked to spell "euonym." For the only time during the competition, she didn't cover her mouth with each letter, but instead screamed out the spelling of the word. (Click here for a video clip courtesy of CNN.) The next day the NY Daily News (which sponsors two New York-area spellers every year, of which Sealfon was one) ran her photo on their front cover, with the headline "EUONYM!"
Sealfon became a bit of a cult icon after the Bee. The competition was just beginning to get popular, so not many people had watched ESPN that day, but over the years I have had conversations with more than one person who also watched Sealfon in action that day.
So I probably shouldn't have been surprised when I turned on Comedy Central one day in 1999 and saw that the newest South Park episode, "Hooked on Monkey Phonics," featured a little homeschooled girl named Rebecca Cutswald who was competing in the spelling bee and covered her mouth with her hands between letters when spelling out her words.
Although this year's competition probably won't inspire another South Park episode (hell, it probably won't even inspire a Family Guy episode), I have high hopes that something great will happen. If I manage to get in, I'll definitely post a review. Regardless, I would definitely recommend everyone watch the finals tonight. And if you want some advance information, check out this article from espn.com, giving a preview on the Bee favorites.