Friday, June 02, 2006

Kudos (from the Greek: praise, renown) to Katharine Close . . .

. . . and her Grandma's skeevy stuffed animal. That's Kerry (Katharine) to the left.

I was prevented from following through on the Bee Blog last night because my daughter -- a damn good speller in her own right -- broke her arm. . . The same arm, in fact, that Kerry spells words on (the right): would that Kerry could autograph the cast!

To lessen the blog clog, I have compiled my comments from rounds 4 through 7 from earlier in the day: I shall watch the finals when I can and write up my observations in my usual way. First impressions, though: I think the program is having a tough time competing with the glut of spelling entertainments in popular culture! If you watched it, tell me what you thought! More soon.

Let the games begin! 12:00 EDT, June 1.

Of course, the first thing that typically surprises viewers is that the National Bee is televised on ESPN: after all, as I have written on another occasion, if you know how to spell, you're academic, not athletic (and competitors rarely disappoint in this area). I will elaborate later on the history and implications of the network's sponsorship. As for the program itself, however, it's immediately apparent that ESPN producers are working straight from the play book: a smoky voice-over -- the kind you hear on "ESPN Classics" -- introduces the competition over a video montage; and we are introduced to our color commentator (Chris McKendrie) as well as the "former finalist" (Paul Loeffler), who furnish a round-up of the previous three rounds and tell us which contestants we should look out for: the arch-competitor, Jonathan Horton, who stares down the camera with the menace of an offensive line-backer; Saryn Hooks, straight from The Princess Diaries; the perenially disappointed Rajiv Tarigopola, hoping to prevail in his last competition; Finola Hackett, a Canadian, whom I have to give props because Canadians typically use British spelling; and last year's runner-up, the puckish Samir Patel, who hopes one day to own the Dallas Cowboys.

Fourth round words (asterisks mark words that were missed): intarsia; nasopharyngeal; subrident; venatorial; *monoceros; piton; echt; paparazzo; sarcolysis; phlogogenic; *caulicle.


In the meantime, we've been introduced to Chris Connelly, who will join McKendrie and Loeffler in the booth: is it too much to suggest (at this point) that in poaching Connelly from MTV, the program is capitalizing on spelling's currency in popular culture? (I don't think so.)

I was on-target with my first impressions of Jon Horton: apparently he worships the Phoenix Suns.

Must quote the "let's go to commercial" line by McKendrie, "Some of the minds here might end up there!" voiced over a photo of the Congress building. Of course the great irony is that Congress passed "No Child Left Behind" Act, when in spelling bees, every child is left behind, save for one; and, as I have noted before, some districts have had to cancel their annual spelling bees because the competition -- which crowns only one winner -- does not help them meet the percentile standards stipulated by the legislation.


More Canadians! I doff my toque to competitors from the True North, Strong and Free. Standard American spelling is idiosyncratic enough, without having to wonder whether you should use "re or "er," "o" or "ou."

The alarmingly slim and pallid Theodore Yuan is a "huge Miami Heat fan." Of course, producers are mulching brief interludes in the competition with stirring back-stories on the more engaging competitors.

Contestant Bonny Jain won the National Geographic bee just last week! Yowza. Can he pull off the "back-to-back," McKendrie wonders: shouldn't that be the "exacta"? Meanwhile, Chris Connelly on the stoic Rajiv Tarigopola: "international man of mystery"?? Yeah, baby! Despite their efforts, I have yet to pin my hopes on any one competitor.


The first of many fond memories from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee:

"Can you use it in a sentence?" "Yes, please spell hospital."

Here's a compelling back-story: Matt Giese "can move his eyebrows in all kinds of strange ways." Now that's a skill you can only pick up through home schooling.

We may have a contender for a favorite: Charley Alleger (one of the few contestants who may have entered puberty). To prepare him for the pressure of the competition, his father "shines a spotlight on his eyes while his mother bangs on pots and pans." Man, you can't make this stuff up.

Samir Patel is on deck and will spell after the break!


Oh -- we've got an arm speller! It looks like she's writing in cursive, too. Samir Patel shoots. . . and scores! At last, one contestant, Lizzie Barnett, does not appear to be utterly humourless (so spelled to honour the Canadian competitors) . . . dang, she missed (on siphonapterology. . . !!).

If you're wondering why I am slowing down, it's because the contestants are -- several of them have been using the maximum time allotted them. . . heck, it took me five minutes to type some of these words.

Meanwhile, as one contestant after another misspells, I present another choice memory from Putnam: The "comfort counselor" assigned to console spellers who misspell is a convict on parole, doing his community service. The racial subtext here is shrewd: for as Akeelah and the Bee (accurately) makes plain, few African-American children make it to the final rounds of competition. By casting an African-American in this role, the musical plays up that disparity as well as its decision to stage the bee in a high school gym, an alternative route -- played up by Hoop Dreams and our ESPN culture -- for the inner city African-American student.

Forty-four started; 26 remain.

Chris Connelly interviews program favorite Samir Patel: "it just depends on who gets which words, and whether you know the words you get." Such wisdom, out of the mouths of babes. Life is pandemonium!

Round five words (again, missed words shown by an asterisk): soliste; maquillage; totipalmate; "aleuromancy; pulicide; cachinnate; *nepenthe; poivrade; tatterdemalion; sculpin; chromlech; *delsartian; nematocyst; proaulion; *trabeated; gallinaceous; bildungsroman; *alcazar (she over-thought it, poor thing); mansuetude; *omodynia; persienne; nephrosclerosis; *tokonoma; saponin (Samir Patel!); physis; ophthalmoplegia; *diaphoresis; *siphonapterology; *causerie; *attrahent [they're going down like flies now]; *khanate; cyrillic.

Jonathan Horton, showing the pressure, and genuinely surprised when he gets "saltire" right. Canuck Finola Hackett advances with "kaddish." They're suddenly throwing out a lot of foreign words but to contestants of divergent family origins -- you know Samir Patel wishes he got "raita"!

The competition is flagging. . . (they must be scrambling in the booth!) I am reminded of an episode of The Simpsons when Homer is watching Garrison Keillor on PBS and shouts at the TV, "BE FUNNY!" (D'oh!) Though a Matt Groening rendering of the already-cartoonish Garrison Keillor is pretty funny.


McKendrie continues to stumble over her sports metaphors, as Bonnie Jain (Geography Bee winner) makes it to the next round. "International Man of Mystery" Rajiv Tarigopolu gets "zebu" (why not "shagadelic"?). Ugh, poor Katharine Close -- her Grandma is waving a musty old stuffed animal in the camera . . . it's tough to be 12. Babe-in-waiting Saryn Hooks strolls through "burin," while Matthew Giese, the eyebrow-gymnast, sticks the landing on "helminthiasis." Here's my boy, Matthew Allegar, with "reliquiae," meaning, the "remains of the dead." "Remains of the dead?" he snorts (and you just know he wants to add: "dude!"). Caitlin Campbell traces "vicontiel" on her fore-arm (someone needs to get that girl some Neosporin) . . .

Fade to commercial . . . "And we're back with Samir Patel, next!"

Samir Patel: whhoop! (He advances.) Ugh, here comes Niharshan Anandasivam: pack a lunch, this kid takes his time. Phoeey, he makes it.

Houston, we have a problem: judges are not sure how Texan resident Anjay Ajodha spelled "sterlet" -- was that an "e"? or an "o"? The judges go to the tape: who knew Scripps had an Instant Replay rule? Poor Anjay is suffering for minutes on stage while the judges confer on what letters he uttered. Ding! Awww. Heartbreak. The call goes against him. Truly, the first tense moment of the competition today.

But we're going into extra time!

Round six words: saltire; antilegomena; *theremin; uncinate; *dhole; kaddish; *raita; toreutics; sikkimese; obliviscence; accouchement; lacertilian (a hand-speller); *suivez; zebu; terrene; fauve; *sulcate; auxesis; burin; helminthiasis; reliquiae; *solleret; vicontiel; thymiaterion; reboise; *sterlet; *ouvert; meningococci.

Oh lord, now that one speller has spelled "meningocacci" the broadcasters are abandoning their tortured sports metaphors for equally-botched surgical ones ("let's see what scalpel Jonathan can take to this word . . .")

WHUH! Talk about a surgical cut! ESPN just cut off the bee to go to the Memorial Golf Tournament!

REMAIN CALM. I happen to know the ESPN executive who used to program the spelling bee (he now is VP in charge of the "U"). Phone calls are being made at this very moment.

I know ESPN was only scheduled to carry it until 3 -- but McKendrie and company had claimed extra time, and were not at all prepared to be cut off mid-broadcast . . . More soon.

As golf is to spelling, spelling is to softball (the Bee is now preempting a softball tournament on ESPN2: let's hope it doesn't end up on "the ocho"!). Btw, can you believe they took out the analogies section of the SAT? That was the fun part.

I got word from ESPN, and then had to scramble to find ESPN2 on my cable system. . . so I've missed a few words. I'm sorry. I've let you all down. Where's the comfort counselor when you need him?

I tuned in to catch Rajiv (IMM) spell "phalarope." Katharine Close spells "cucullate" for her Grandma and her grubby stuffed animal. That cutie Matthew Evans misplays "joual." Saryn, you're the bomb! (bombycine). Charley, you stud: "lymphadinitis."

I must leave you all now: my daughter's school called, and I have to fetch my son from speech therapy (is there something perverse about watching a spelling bee while your son is in speech therapy?).

I'll be back later, with more background and to call the finals tonight. Have a great day.

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