The Scripps National Spelling Bee came to a close Thursday night in National Harbor, Maryland. The champion? Rishik Gandhasri from California. Oh, I forgot to mention Rohan Raja, Sohum Sukhatankar, and Abhijay Kodali (all from Texas). But that’s only half--Erin Howard from Alabama, Christopher Serrao and Shruthika Padhy from New Jersey, and Saketh Sundar from Maryland? All champions as well!
In the 17th round of the bee, shortly before midnight, Dr. Bailly had an announcement to make. “We are now entering uncharted territory,” he said, before going on to announce that after three more rounds, the Bee would be out of challenging words and that anyone who could make it through the next three rounds would be declared a co-champion. Naturally, all eight remaining spellers made it through and won. They dubbed themselves “octochamps.” The atmosphere in the ballroom was so full of excitement--the audience of over 1000 was breathlessly euphoric as not one, not two, but EIGHT champions were crowned. The Scripps rules provide for up to three co-champions, so eight seems unthinkable, and yet, this octet of talented spellers managed to make it happen. Scripps had no other choice. Everyone knew that they were witnessing history in the making. It was a wonderful surprise to see eight kids win the bee this year, but what does this mean for the future?
Many agree that Scripps could have used harder words. With the advent of SpellPundit, which includes just about every word someone might need to know for a spelling bee, some believe that the bee might be permanently broken--the argument here is that too many kids know every possible word, and nothing can be done to “fix” the bee. While I do believe that the word list could have been improved, I do not think the bee is “dead” or irretrievable in any way. Each year, Scripps changes the rules based on what they think is best based on previous bees, and this year’s bee will just be another event to consider. Will we see some serious rule changes? Probably. Is the bee gone forever? Absolutely not.
So what can be done? Some have suggested shortening the time limit or not allowing spellers to ask for information. That, however, seems to take away what is at the core of the bee--celebration of deep understanding of words and etymology and language. The words, though, could have been more difficult. While Scripps threw some incredibly difficult words at the spellers and they each absolutely deserved their championship, the dictionary has not been exhausted. Difficult as it is to believe, there are words hiding deep in the shadows of Merriam-Webster Unabridged that are even more esoteric, even more mind-boggling, and even more intimidating than the incredibly challenging words conquered by the Octochamps. The word difficulty also seemed to progress inconsistently, and it would probably be in Scripps’ best interest to standardize that, although I understand fully that it is easier said than done.
In any case, each of the Octochamps worked unbelievably hard for what they have accomplished, and they deserve nothing but kudos for their efforts and achievements. I’d like to offer a hearty Octongratulations (sorry, it had to be done) to all eight of them!