A Viewer’s Guide to Tonight’s Spelling Bee Finals

It’s been over a year since I last sang the praises of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, but Spelling Bee Day 2010 has finally arrived. This afternoon’s semifinal rounds did not disappoint. It had controversy, surprises, and a dramatic Round 6 that eliminated nine of 13 contestants before being cut short for time (and, presumably, because the Bee wanted to save some contestants for tonight’s Finals on ABC).

The semifinals were particularly brutal for those who finished well in last year’s Bee—the presumptive favorites for 2010. Tim Ruiter, who finished tied for second last year, lost on his first word of the day: fustanella. Also losing in the semis were Esther Park (who finished tied for 17th last year), Bradon Whitehead (37th), Anjithaa Radakrishnan (12th), Nicolas Rushlow (17th), Connor Aberle (17th), Sukanya Roy (12th), and Neetu Chandak (8th), who was actually eliminated twice, after being reinstated after the first one.

Chandak’s reinstatement came when there was some confusion about the etymology of her word, “paravane.” She asked first if the word was from the Latin root meaning “around,” and was told no—that the word had only Greek roots. She then asked if the word was from the Greek root meaning “around,” and was told yes—except that the Greek prefix for “around” is peri (as in “perimeter”) or pero. Para does come from Greek, but in Greek it means “beside” or “near.” She spelled her word “perovane,” using the Greek root for “around,” but not the proper Greek root.

Unlike the MLB, though, Scripps is not opposed to correcting its mistakes, so it reinstated Chandak when it reviewed the misleading information they had given her. Unfortunately, she was eliminated on her next word, “apogalacteum.”

Heading into the Finals, we’re down to a mere 10 contestants—six of whom didn’t even get a word before Round Six was cut short. With so much attrition, though, let’s break down the Final 10:

THE FAVORITES:

Anamika Veermani

—One of the few 2009 success stories to survive the Semifinals, she finished fifth last year and spelled both her words correctly without much difficulty. She’s got an unusual style, as she rarely asks questions about the word’s derivation, insisting that this information confuses as often as it illuminates. This, of course, means she does not know pretty much any word she gets, but she hasn’t been tripped up much yet.

Laura Newcombe

—She finished 17th last year, but has seemed unfazed by three difficult words thus far. She nailed “thalassian” and “nematodiasis,” and then got a dreaded “derivation unknown” word in the killer Round 6. Even without any derivation clues, she managed to work out “scrannel,” a word she clearly hadn’t hear before. If that can’t stump her, then you have to wonder what will…

Aditya Chemudupaty

—Another survivor of the Curse of 2009, he finished 12th last year. He’s got a casual attitude at the mic—so casual, in fact, that it looks like he doesn’t even care. I mean, he wore a sweatshirt and didn’t even take his hands out of his pockets. Class it up, man, you’re on TV! His laid-back demeanor, though, seemed to cover up some trouble he had with his last word, “genethliac.”

DARK HORSES

Lanson Tang

—This is apparently his first time at Scripps, in his final year of eligibility, and he’s thrived so far. One of the few to survive Round 6, he managed to successfully work through “rhabdomyoma.”

Adrian Gunawan

­—At first I wasn’t sold on him: He seemed to have trouble getting through “forzato,” one of the few words even I could get. I’m just going to chalk that up to him not knowing musical terms, though, since he dealt with two tricky medical words in the next two rounds.

Elizabeth Platz

—She handled words from three different languages, including a Japanese word—“matsutake”—which she seemed to either know or be familiar enough with to work out without much trouble.

THE MYSTERIES

Shantanu Srivatsa

—His only two words were “cossette” and “Brumalia.” Neither of them really presented enough of a challenge to get a gauge on his prowess.

Andrew Grose

—The last to go in each round, he got two words that he seemed to know immediately. That could mean that he’s well-prepared, or it could mean that he got lucky with his words.

Juliana Canabal-Rodriguez

—She’s from Puerto Rico and fluent in Spanish, but she seemed to take a while with “bacalao,” which comes from her native language. Maybe she was just being careful, but it doesn’t inspire confidence.

Joanna Ye

—No particularly difficult words for her—I mean, one of her preliminary round words was “Madeleine.” Really? This is Scripps we’re talking about, not some fifth-grade English class!

Prediction: I’d like to go out on a limb and pick a surprise, but I’m going with Laura Newcombe, who impressed me in the Semis. Also, she’s Canadian, and that country’s due for a win.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Dr. Alfred Bailey on June 4, 2010 at 10:02 PM

    How can Dr. Bailey’s many mis-pronounciatons be tolerated. UNFAIR.

    Reply

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