In just under seven days, spellers will begin arriving in National Harbor in Maryland (near Washington, D.C.) for the 90th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee. In just under ten days, the first onstage rounds of the Bee will begin. At this point I've already given much of my advice for spellers, so why not give a little bit of advice for people who are watching? Many people who watch the Bee, whether on television or in person, have been in a spelling bee before. However, many of them have not been in the national spelling bee, so it may interest viewers to think about watching the Bee from the perspective of a speller. Here are some of the basic "rules" for watching a bee:
Do try to spell the words yourself. This definitely isn't a "requirement" or something you "should" do, but guessing the words is always fun. By comparing oneself to the spellers, one can test their own spelling skill and gain a greater appreciation of the talent and effort it takes to even qualify for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. If you're watching with other people, a friendly competition can be enjoyable.
Don't assume that a speller does not know any of the words being given after their elimination. It's actually very rare for a speller to not know any of the words after their elimination. For myself, and many of the spellers I've talked to, usually over 90% of the words for at least a few rounds after elimination are known by the eliminated speller. This may not affect your perception of the remaining spellers, but it may affect your perception of those eliminated--rankings in the Bee are not the be-all and end-all determinants of which spellers are better. That is not to say that the winner is not likely to be better than most of the other spellers; this is merely a commentary on the factor that luck plays in the Bee.
Do familiarize yourself with how the Bee works. If you haven't already, read through the contest rules and look atspellingbee.com to learn the inner workings of the Bee. Several parts of the Bee (such as the Preliminaries Test and Tiebreaker Test) take place offstage, and understanding the mechanisms of everything that goes on in the Bee (not just what you're seeing on television or onstage) will help you get the most out of watching it.
Don't root against spellers. It's one thing to root for specific spellers more than others, but don't actively wish for a particular speller to misspell. The speller earned their trip to the Bee, and rooting for their failure is detrimental for everyone involved, including you.
With these things in mind, enjoy watching the Scripps National Spelling Bee next week! (It will be broadcast on May 31 on ESPN3 starting at 8 AM EST, June 1 on ESPN2 starting at 10 AM EST, and again later on June 1 on ESPN starting at 8:30 PM EST). Lastly, to any spellers reading this, good luck!