Tuesday, March 21, 2023 Mar 21, 2023
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Spelling Bee Kids Will Crush You With Their Minds

North Texas spellers Dhroov Bharatia and Vivinsha Veduru have already made their exits before tonight's Scripps National Spelling Bee finals, but odds are good we'll see them again.
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Courtesy Scripps National Spelling Bee

You will never train harder for anything than you will train for a spelling bee.

I should know, having once been someone who ate, breathed, and slept spelling words for two glorious years. Even now, as we head into the finals of the 2022 Scripps National Spelling Bee tonight, I find myself mentally willing preteens to spell words like cymatium, quinquefoliolate, and malacophyllous, knowing full well that the likelihood of them using those words ever again in their lives is slim to none. (Unless they grow up to be a journalist and find themselves writing a story about spelling bees).

The people who live with me may mock me, but yes, I silently (mostly) spell along with the contestants as they work out the letters of whatever word was just given to them. All of them have their own particular strategies. Mine was to stall. Ask for it in the form of a sentence. Ask if there are any other definitions. Ask to repeat the word. Ask about its etymology. 

Then take a deep breath, and slowly sound the word out. Try extremely hard not to puke, cry, or puke and cry when your word has seven syllables and an Old Norse origin, and then try not to faint in relief when you actually spell it correctly. 

(Pro-tip: Make sure that if you get the word organism, you uh, don’t get overconfident about how easy it is to spell organism and leave out a couple of letters, sending every adult in the room off in a giggle fit while also ending your spelling bee maiden voyage as a cautionary tale.)

North Texas’ last two spellers, Plano’s Dhroov Bharatia and Keller’s Vivinsha Veduru, made their exits last night (Lindsey Roberts, who attends Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy, was knocked out in the preliminary round).

As a longtime spelling bee fan, I cannot circle back to this enough: it is really, really hard to get to the national bee. I never did, despite studying the dictionary and forcing people to quiz me on the playground and in study hall. Hundreds of students make their way through school, district, and state bees that are really, really good at spelling, but never become one of the 243 that make it to the national bee. 

And when I participated, all I had to do was spell. There are vocabulary questions now and lighting rounds so they can avoid a tie, which happened in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2019. The latter had an eight-way tie because organizers ran out of words because spelling bee kids are crazy smart and will crush you with their minds. 

Preparation for all of this is super serious. You start out with the School Spelling Bee Study List, and then move on to the Words of the Champions to prepare for bees at the state and national level. 

There are giant study guides to help with strategizing and boning up on clues (for instance, asking for the origin of a word can give you an idea of potential letter combinations that are particular for that language). Some kids have personal spelling coaches. 

By the time you get to the semi-finals (where Bharatia and Veduru made their exits), you’re dealing with rounds of oral spelling and multiple-choice word definition questions, with an instant elimination for any incorrect answers. The finals have oral spelling, but also offer the prospect of lightning rounds if judges decide the bee is heading toward the end of its time format and there is a danger of a tie.

In a lightning round, spellers have 90 seconds to spell as many words as they can correctly. In the event of a tie, spellers get the same words, lightning round style, but they’re isolated from each other.

Bharatia was knocked out by “ostreger,” which is a keeper of long-tailed hawks with short, rounded wings. Vederu was knocked out when she defined ragout as a diverse group of people (it’s a well-seasoned meat and vegetable dish cooked in a thick sauce, per Merriam-Webster’s, the official dictionary of the Scripps National Spelling Bee).

Only 12 of the 48 spellers in the semifinals made it to tonight’s finals. Both Bharatia and Veduru made it to the finals of last year’s bee (and tied for fourth place). Bharatia is only 13, and Veduru is 11, so odds are extremely good that we haven’t seen the last of them, either.

The finals start at 7 p.m. tonight. You can find where they’re streaming here.


Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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