The other day, a friend from the National Spelling Bee sent me a PDF that had been sent to him by another speller. In it was a list of the speller numbers for this year's Scripps National Spelling Bee, arranged alphabetically by sponsor. However, where the numbers have previously been alphabetically arranged by state or country (i.e. the speller from Alabama was Speller #1), the numbers seem to be totally randomized--no one I've talked to has been able to find any kind of pattern, anyway. Even spellers from regional bees that send multiple spellers are separated (for example, the two spellers from the Houston regional will be 200 and 254).
While it remains unknown as to whether the numbers are truly randomized or were intentionally chosen by Scripps with some type of algorithm that has yet to be noticed, there are definitely a few interesting characteristics of these numbers. For example, the speller sponsored by KJRH-TV in Tulsa, Oklahoma, will be very last--speller 290. This speller just happens to be Edith Fuller, who is (at 5 years old) the youngest to ever qualify for the national bee, which will probably increase interest level for viewers who want to follow young spellers. There are debates, too, as to whether the new number format is good or bad.
Some like the idea, mostly for fairness reasons, but also for their own personal benefit. "Being from the West coast, having a later number helps me better with adjusting to the time zone. Also, randomization is fair, and numbers changing every year keeps things exciting," says Ananya Vinay, a speller from Fresno, California, who is returning to the Bee for the second time this year, and will be Speller 264 this year after being Speller 12 last year. Those who live in different time zones from where nationals are held probably generally prefer later numbers, especially those in the Pacific time zone, because if a speller's number is early on, they have to spell in the Preliminaries not long after 5:00 AM their usual time. A later number will perhaps help their brains adjust (although of course, if the randomization continues, spellers from earlier time zones will not necessarily always have later numbers).
Other spellers are not quite as happy about the new numbering system. Riley Hamp, a speller from Virginia who is also returning for the second time this year (shifting from Speller 250 to Speller 211), is "kind of neutral about it, I was looking forward to being near my friends from last year, but I guess it's a good thing to meet new people. I think it makes the whole bee more unorganized though." In relation to the part about the numbers being disorganized, she says that "it's a mess to have people from states out of alphabetical order" and that it will be "more confusing for people who are used to the old way of organizing, and for the new people [as well]". There certainly is something to be said for having spellers from each state or country all in one group, as it makes it easier for the audience to know who might be coming up next.
Some like it and some don't. Regardless of your opinion about it, though, it should add an extra factor to make this year's national spelling bee (as usual) quite an interesting event.