...where brilliant American students, under the age of 16, stand before a large national audience and spell words you cannot even pronounce.
To feel a little dumber, we sat in the front row of the Championship round of the spelling bee, where the top twelve spellers duke it out for the trophy. Here is what we learned:
1. The ballroom is really big where they host the bee.
And you will never again in your life be in a room full of smarter families...
... furiously spelling words in unison. Everyone in the audience has a notepad where they try spelling the given word.
2. The spellers on stage write using their fingers and palms.
And they do so with an incredible amount of pressure on them
These kids, some no older than 10, have to spell under the glare of a live television audience and a cadre of snapping photogs.
3. The kids have to follow the direction of a floor producer....
...and know that every move they make is in danger of getting internet treatment.
4. While spelling, the kids stare down dozen of judges on computers, providing support work for the spelled words.
Here is what a super fancy spelling super computer looks like.
5. The judges are also very serious people who wear serious spelling bee ties.
6. The kids also must stare down their families in the front row.
7. The cameras get really, really close to the families while their children are spelling.
8. The families (not on camera) writhe with nervousness as the words are spelled.
And it can be excruciating when a word is spelled wrong.
Defeat is tough...
... but luckily your family is only a few feet away.
9. Kids who misspell a word leave the stage and go sit with their parents...
...and remark "I know this one..." as the next speller receives their word.
And silently spell the preceding words while rolling their eyes.
10. But even though life on stage might be stressful, there is an upside: snacks.
The spellers have access to a bunch of snacks that are guarded by three ladies.
During the commercial breaks these ladies bring the snacks over to the kids.
11. The spellers also have two enthusiastic ladies wave signs telling the audience when to applaud for them.
12. During the commercial breaks, ESPN does not miss the opportunity to advertise the NBA Eastern Conference finals to the spelling crowd.
13. The spellers who did not make it to the championship round sit listening, bored on the stage.
Other bored kids play video games set up in the lobby...
... when they are done at the dictionary table.
14. As the night drags some of the kids onstage get restless and take a selfie ....
... and for their efforts they get their cell phones taken away by one of the snack ladies.
15. When the final words are being spelled, this lurker moves in with a cannon.
And this is the best part of his day.
This year co-champions were crowned after spelling the words “stichomythia” and “feuilleton.”
16. And as their families rushed the stage some members could care less about the spelling...
17. Being the spelling champ is like being the king or queen of young geek world. You have adoring fans...
Even those who are disqualified get asked for autographs...
... which is perhaps the most beautiful part of the competition. These kids are stars and being recognized for their intelligence. It is a wonderful thing.