By Mike Wilcox
Thanks to ESPN, spelling bees are making a comeback. Way back when, I remember them being one of the most important events of the school year. Elementary students, me included, studied long and hard at the opportunity to be a part of, and win, a spelling bee.
This year’s version of the Scripps National Spelling Bee ended in a tie. This was no ordinary tie where two contestants fought to a draw. No, this year’s event, broadcast on national television a week ago, was called after eight finalists would not misspell a word. Those in charge determined they had run out of words, the Bee had lasted too long or both, and declared all eight winners.
I wasn’t a fan of eight students sharing the top prize, but Scripps was generous giving each the winner’s take, $50,000.
As an elementary student I couldn’t imagine winning that much money. Back when I was winning spelling bees, we received a Webster’s dictionary. I won three with my name inscribed on the cover. Where they are now I have no clue, but you can bet if the prize had been $50,000 I would have kept an eye on its whereabouts.
The fact that ESPN has enough audience to broadcast the competition each year is interesting. Much like the Fourth of July Nathan’s hot dog eating competition the network also broadcasts, the National Spelling Bee is must-watch TV for me. There’s something about youngsters on a big stage spelling words I wasn’t even aware existed that greatly entertains me.
I equate the spelling bee with a similar TV show, “Jeopardy.” You have to train hard and be super smart to earn a ticket to the Scripps Spelling Bee. Same with the quiz show “Jeopardy.”
I was sitting in my easy chair Monday night, when James Holzhauer was expected to become the show’s all-time earnings winner. He needed only $60,000 to overtake “Jeopardy” icon Ken Jennings.
Holzhauer was matched against two well-versed contestants. Only one question was missed the entire game, as he battled wits with Chicago librarian Emma Boettcher and a third contestant from Atlanta. Despite Boettcher winning three out of four daily doubles, and betting all in, I still expected Holzhauer to come out on top.
It wasn’t to be however. Boettcher beat Holzhauer to the buzzer often, always answering the questions right, thus ending the Las Vegas sports gambler’s bid to overtake Jennings.
Like the spelling bee, it was compelling television. “Jeopardy” has been so for a couple months as Holzhauer steamrolled contestant after contestant until Monday. Like the eight spelling bee winners, I didn’t think he would ever lose. He didn’t seem to have a weakness and was very fast at buzzing in the answer.
Boettcher, however, was better Monday night and had the luck Holzhauer usually had finding daily doubles. Unlike most other contestants, she was Holzhauer-like in “going all in” to double her money.
With the spelling bee over and Holzhauer’s “Jeopardy” reign finished, I will turn my attention to the hot dog eating contest. It will be compelling and entertaining to watch Joey Chestnut try to best his own record, set last July 4, of eating 74 hot dogs in 10 minutes.
Holzhauer couldn’t match Jennings. Can Chestnut beat his own record? Tune in on the Fourth.