A baseball game, like the Little League World Series, is one of the few events where middle schoolers can be the center of attention.
After two strong contestants going toe-to-toe for eighteen rounds, the Scripps National Spelling Bee ended in a first: a spell-off between 14-year-old Harini Logan and 12-year-old Vikram Raju.
The two contestants had 90 seconds to spell as many words as possible. Both contestants doubled the normal number of words that can be spelled in one round, but it was difficult for the judges to determine who won because they both spelled so many.
Logan, whose incredible 21 correct spellings out of 25 in the lightning round has already launched memes across Twitter, won the National Spelling Bee. It was a year of firsts for this popular event. For the first time since 2019, it took place in the traditional manner with kids spelling from the stage and competing from home on TV.
Due to the COVID-19 virus, the 2020 event was canceled. In order to follow this protocol, last year’s format was modified to accommodate for the three virtual rounds.
Raju, the runner-up, answered 15 words correctly in the spell-off. He spelled them a little slower than Logan who barely needed to pause when spelling words most viewers might not have been familiar with.
The 2019 Bee seemed like the perfect final to a competition that had been more dramatic than any in recent memory. The lightning round, which was intended to be a cleanse of memories from last year’s disappointing event, turned out to be just as thrilling.
The bee has become an event that rivals the most popular sporting contests. Thousands of contestants have greatly improved their mental skills over the last 20 years. They say they spend six hours a day practicing with their words, which is similar to the time that Simone Biles spends in the gym. The intensity of the culture has led many people to question how much this activity has changed and whether it’s too intense or too complicated.
Most people watching the Bee don’t know the words, so when they’re thrown around, it’s hard to keep up. When you get to late rounds, like “syllarian” (a crustacean), “pyrolinidone” (an organic compound) and “myricetin” (a flavonoid), it gets really complicated.
Raju showed the pressure of the spell-off. He shook with emotion, but reassured that he would return for the next year of eligibility. Although he is only 12 years old, Raju understands that this was a crucial moment in his intellectual life.
There was more drama with the spelling bee this year. One of the spellers was reinstated after an appeal in a semifinal elimination because he was not given all the information about the word he had to spell. And Logan herself was briefly eliminated during the round where spellers have to explain the definition of a word. The judges ruled that her answer could be applied to a secondary meaning of the word, overturning her elimination.
The word “round,” meaning a part of something larger, has returned this year, coming back in response to criticism that the Spelling Bee is not focused on education, but more focused on competition.
If people just go through the motions of spelling, are they really learning? Connecting words on a written list to their meanings is one way to make sure people remember what they’re learning. The stated aim of the bee,to “help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts and develop correct English usage that will help them all their lives.”
Of course, like any contest in 2022, it’s not immune from criticism. Some of that hews closer to what’s said about sports these days — kids beginning to do more advanced things too early and feeling too much pressure. In the past two years, there have been two 8-year-olds who made it to the National Bee and an 11-year-old who won. However, no adjustments seem to be on the horizon which is a concern.
The show is almost guaranteed to have fewer viewers than the previous years. It is airing on Ion this year, which doesn’t have a large viewer base. There is also a new host, LeVar Burton, for the first time.