Spelling Bee: WASHINGTON The wide eyes that accompanied the question to Christopher Serrao almost deceived the audience.
It was after 10:00 pm on Thursday (30), and he was tired. With little food and almost no drink – going to the bathroom could cause competitors to lose their turn – the boy was uncertain about the origin of the 13th word he would spell before the jurors. “Imbirussú: from Tupi to Portuguese” was the answer he heard before pronouncing each letter of the term that refers to the typical tree of Central America.
It was the pass for a historic victory. At age 13, Serrao joined seven other students who won this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee, a spelling bee that has existed in the United States since 1925. After unpublished 20 rounds that ran through words such as bougainvillea and tetranychid -with space for Brazilians ranging from maxixe to vuvuzela-, event organizers realized that vocabulary would be lacking enough challenging for the finalists.
Spelling Bee Champions Celebrate Victory at Gaylord National Resort, Maryland – Alex Wong / Getty Images / AFP They decided, for the first time in 94 years, to award the prize to eight competitors. “We basically threw the dictionary at you and so far you’re showing him the boss,” said Jacques Bailly, the official speechwriter since 2003 – and winner of the 1980 edition.
It was the 17th round, and Bailly had already defined, repeated, and provided the origin of thousands of words for a total of 565 participants. Surrounded in daily life by applications that often require abbreviations and slang for faster message flow, competitors seemed to form a spelling oasis within the Gaylord National Resort in Maryland.
But beyond the discipline that involves daily hours of practice, students develop methods for how to spell words without necessarily knowing them or knowing how to use them. Even because no one usually talks about uftaktigkeit or Omphalopsychite, for example.
“I do not know all the words, but I can spell them because of the origin, because of the definition,” explains Paul Hamrick, 14th, seventh place in the 2018 edition. This year, he did not participate in the competition. It was to accompany the younger brother, eliminated even in the early stages.
Sitting in front of the stage, Paul wrote down all the words he had proposed to competitors and checked with his mother if they were correct. “He does it just for the fun,” said Jennifer Hamrick. Asked if the training helps at the time of speaking and writing better, she looks at her son, still a little skeptical: “Yeah, maybe.” Already Melodie Loya, who turned on the stage and made the heart with her hands every time she hit a word, separates the contest from real life.
“I work eight hours a day, but I’m pretty normal, so when I’m on my cell phone, I use abbreviations and slang, of course.” After correctly spelling madrague and gnotobiotic, he packed into theileriasis. She cried, hugging her friends and the iPhone. In addition to theories and training, private teachers are the key to the success of many competitors.
Paying a specific tutor to spell is one of the advantages for students in good financial condition, in addition to the controversial program created last year that allows the student to skip the regional phases and go straight to the national. This, of course, if the family comes up with a fee of $ 1,500 plus six days of resort stay with daily rates at $ 300.
This year, of the 565 competitors, 292 were on the stage under these conditions. The national contest lasts almost a week – between preliminaries and qualifiers – and the big final is broadcast live on ESPN, the American TV channel. Each student has up to two minutes to ask for all the information about a word and pronounce it correctly.
A single mistake eliminates him from the competition. GLOSSARY auftaktigkeit (German word of origin): a principle in music Omphalopsychite: one who stares at his navel to induce a mystical trance madrague (word of French origin): a large fish pond or a siege to catch tuna in the Mediterranean gnotobiotic (Greek word of origin): of, relating to, living in, or being a controlled environment containing one or some types of organism theileriasis: infection or disease caused by a protozoan of the genus Theileria Source: Merriam-Webster Of the total number of participants who started the tests on Monday, there were 50 left on Thursday morning. Around 2:00 p.m., it was already 25, and in the middle of the afternoon, the 16 who went to prime time on TV were classified. Since 1999, 19 of the 23 Spelling Bee winners have had Indian ancestry, including the youngest in history, who won at age six in 2016.
The first of these, Nupur Lala, is portrayed in the 2002 documentary “Spellbound.” In the historic edition of 2019, six of the eight winners – who earned $ 50,000 each – held the tradition: Rishik Gandhasri, Saketh Sundar, Shruthika Padhy, Sohum Sukhatankar, Abhijay Kodali, and Rohan Raja. To them, they add Erin Howard and Christopher Serrao, that one of imbirussú. Melodie Loya, the iPhone girl, was in her third appearance in the contest, but could not be among the winners. It was one of the top 30. “If you had prepared yourself eight hours a day for one thing and you could not, you would be very sad too, right?” She asked this reporter. Definitely.