A Disappointing Bee?

So, I know I said that the Spelling Bee never disappoints, but I may have to correct myself. Last night’s spelling bee finals were kind of disappointing, and not just because my pick, Laura Newcombe, was eliminated on a word Dr. Bailey couldn’t even pronounce right. No, there were three things that kept the Bee from being as great as it usually is:

Controversy: As I mentioned yesterday, the Bee made the decision to cut off Round 6 early, in order to ensure that there were enough spellers for the Finals on ABC. That meant, though, that six of the 10 spellers who made to the primetime broadcast on ABC had not spelled a word correctly in Round 6. The Bee tried to handle this by saying that these contestants weren’t technically “Finalists,” since they resumed Round 6 where they left off during the day. But the ABC broadcast was billed as the Spelling Bee Finals, and all 10 of them were featured in all the promotional material from the network. Meanwhile, spellers from states that fell earlier alphabetically and were eliminated in Round 6 did not get such treatment.

This was in addition to the controversy around the judges and Dr. Bailey. In the semifinals, Neetu Chandak had to be reinstated after the judges realized they had mislead her about the words etymology. Also, in the Finals, Laura Newcombe heard her word—“confiserie,” a word she told Erin Andrews she knew—as “colfeaserie” and spelled it as such. Even my faith in Dr. Bailey was rocked by that.

Misspellings: Of the 19 words announced in the Finals, nine were misspelled. If you factor in the brutal first-half of Round Six, in which nine of 13 spellers were eliminated, that means that 18 of the last 32 words were misspelled. I don’t know if the words this year were harder or the spellers this year were worse, but it’s a lot less exciting to watch the Bee when everyone’s getting the words wrong. I don’t even think the Bee got to Championship Words list—the final, more difficult, list of words used when the Bee gets down to two contestants. Even though Round 8 started with four contestants, the first three got their words wrong, meaning the winner, Anamika Veermani, was the last one standing before even getting her word (she still had to spell two more correctly, based on Bee rules, but the ending was still rushed). Only two spellers—Veermani and Shantanu Srivatsa—spelled more than one word right in the Final broadcast.

Lots of filler time: Largely because so many spellers were eliminated so quickly, the Finals broadcast seemed like mostly ABC filler material. Only 19 words were announced in the two hours allotted for the Finals. Conversely, the Semifinals had 94 words in just twice as much airtime.

Really, the first and last of these issues were directly a result of the move made a few years ago to hold the Final rounds for a primetime broadcast on ABC. Round 6 began with 19 spellers—too many for a two-hour broadcast—but when nine were quickly eliminated, it was cut short in order to prevent the number from getting too small. As a result, the marathon-like feel of the Spelling Bee was ruined so ABC and Disney could cross-promote other releases with gimmicks like Will Ferrell trying to spell a word. Even the high concentration of misspellings was a result of the watered-down final rounds. With the TV interruption, four of the spellers had to wait around just to misspell their first word. This took the emphasis off their many successes and focused on their failures.

The Spelling Bee was a much better viewing experience when it was all on ESPN, and it was allowed to air uninterrupted until a natural conclusion. The problems with this year’s Bee were easy to spell: A-B-C.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by zardunk on June 7, 2010 at 1:55 AM

    Eleven-year-old Laura Newcombe fell victim to a horrible pronunciation at the National Spelling Bee last night, and which most likely caused her a possible shot at the Championship.

    Dr. Bailey who has only been doing this “Spelling Bee Enunciation” gig forever, totally fractured the French word Confiserie.

    Laura comes from Canada whose national second language is French. Bailey “repeatedly” butchered his pronunciation of the word: Confiserie. How in heck do you get the sound of “col” from a word that begins “con”?

    Poor Laura spelled what she heard—not what she knew—trusting the incompetent Doctor-of-English-Bailey. His goof up is tantamount to the Detroit Tiger’s Pitcher Armando Galarraga denial of a perfect ball game last week with a blind call by Referee Jim Joyce.

    The only difference is that Referee Joyce had the good conscience to come out and immediately admit that he had made a mistake; obviously, arrogant Bailey “Mister Perfect English” will never do such a thing—not until every French person has the guts to point it out to him.


    • Posted by Michele on March 29, 2017 at 9:19 AM

      My daughter was eliminated last week by a word that was never pronounced correctly. It was a Regional Bee with only 2 spellers remaining. All 3 judges sat silent. An appeal wasn’t possible because the word did not have complete diacriticals at Merriam-Webster online. The sponsor refuses to admit the pronunciation mistake even though the video is publicly posted, essentially saying the judges have authority to rule as they see fit, even if they violated their own rules.

      My daughter’s dreams of returning to Nationals have been killed. Effectively, she was evicted by the judges, not eliminated by a misspelling. You can see the whole story here and help us get the word out, so this stops happening: https://www.facebook.com/StungbytheBee


  2. I also think that the commentators butchered the suspense this year. I couldn’t focus on the speller’s questions or hear Dr Bailey’s etymology answers since the commentators had to fill their lack of screen time with stupid obvious statements.


  3. Excellent post. I was checking continuously this blog and I am impressed! Extremely useful info particularly the final part 🙂 I take care of such information a lot. I was looking for this particular information for a very long time. Thank you and good luck.


  4. Posted by Name on November 1, 2012 at 10:39 PM

    I don’t know why you think he pronounced the word confiserie incorrectly. There was no L sound in his pronunciation. My girlfriend, who teaches French, also said the word was not mispronounced.


  5. Maybe you should learn how to spell Dr. Jacques Bailly’s name correctly.


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