Saturday, May 31, 2008

King Bee

Sameer Mishra, a 13-year-old boy from Indiana, won the 2008 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Friday. After successfully spelling several tough words, the word that finally got him the trophy was 'guerdon'. After a couple of years where Indian kids did not win the trophy, the 12 2008 finalists included four Indian kids and the last two finalists were both Indian kids.

While I've always been interested in the Spelling Bee, Friday was the first time I actually watched it on TV. As in the case of any other American show, they managed to make a big show out of the rather nerdy event, injecting it with humor, drama and emotions.

I've always loved learning new words and have always been fascinated by their etymologies(I was probably the only one in my class who actually liked preparing for the Vocabulary section of the GRE back in college!) and so the Bee held all the thrills, emotions and excitement akin to a World Cup or NBA Finals.It was pretty amazing watching the talent, poise and confidence in the kids as they tackled tough words like 'Nietzchean' and 'introuvable'. I knew very few of the words that the kids were called upon to spell('bowdlerize' and 'satyagraha' are a couple I knew) and so watching them come up with the spelling after grasping the pronunciation and understanding the language of origin was spellbinding(pun unintended).


At 10:29 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

read this.. too hilarious

At 4:57 AM, Blogger utbtkids said...

I hit the bee when I was channel surfing an ended up watching it. Was quite gripping. All the kids were amazing.

But didn't like the way they shoved the camera in to the kids faces when had just misspelled. What are they supposed to do? Cry? Or smile and show the world that they are a sport? Must have let the kids alone for a few mins and may be talked to them with their family behind the stage.

What is this compulsion to dissect human emotions, especially vulnerability? American TV does an over dose of this in the name of reality show, why do they do the same in speling bee too?

At 8:10 AM, Blogger Munimma said...

BB, tsk tsk, forgetting in your advanced age? you were not the only one (in college, I mean).

We too made it our Friday main event. I can't understand wanting all that stress and pressure, but some people thrive on it I guess. My older one declared that she would rather participate in a math bee.

To hear these kids talk about their prep work is amazing. And they seem to have very supportive (may be pushy) parents.

And of course, the art of mugging up is very familiar to desis and is probably part of their genetic makeup by now.

At 10:35 AM, Blogger Srivatsan Sridharan said...


The best thing abt this is the kids do some research on Lang of Origin of the word and mostly educated guesses on language of origin turns right!.

At 1:53 PM, Blogger mitr_bayarea said...


Nice write up...missed following up on this news item.

At 2:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bb, am back after a break...was traveling quite a bit after my sem ended.
anyways, i think i would've actively participated in spelling bee contests had i grown up in the US...yep, me too...thorougly enjoyed going through the 50 word lists as part of the GRE prep...i remember sounding like tracey ullman in "Small Time Crooks" showing off my mugged up vocabulary...until my Mum started stumping me with phrases like "Dont take the coal to New Castle" (unfortunately u dont mug up phrases and their meanings for the GRE!) and said, "novel padichu valathukara english words mug padichu varaadhu!"

an interesting etymology - juggernaut is derived from the Hindu God Jagannath

At 4:23 PM, Blogger Shanthi said...

have u seen a movie on this ? i remember watching it in lufthansa...

At 5:23 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

sundar, thanx for that. had a good laugh :)

utbt, american tv is well-known for that taking advantage of emotions. I'm guessing thats what gets the ratings. So no wonder they did that here too to inject some emotions into a purely academic show. I was pretty impressed with the kids even there though. No unnecessary drama or sentiments just cos the camera was on them. They handled defeat with great poise too :)

munimma, yep, I guess I should've said "one of the few" :)

srivatsan, yeah that was the most interesting part of the show for me too. they way they used the language to figure out the spelling was cool :)

mitr, thanx :)

ram, interesting trivia there on juggernaut. didn't know that one :)

shanthi, yeah that was 'akeelah and the bee'. a very good, feel-good movie :)

At 4:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hated 'Akeelah and the bee', especially because of the high ratings it got on imdb. It was so stereotyped. The funny Hispanic kid you just knew was going to be 3rd, the hyper-competitive Chinese parent, the reclusive teacher ...

'Spellbound' is a documentary on the spelling bee, and it is very good. Check it out, even if you aren't a fan of the contest.

At 8:51 AM, Blogger Balaji said...

prakash, i liked 'akeelah and the bee' quite a bit. i'm a sucker for feel-good movies and the climax surprised me inspite of the end being predictable. will chk out 'spellbound'. I believe there was another movie(with richard gere?) about the Bee too :)


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