Spellers cheered when they learned Thursday that they were finalists of the 91
st Scripps National Spelling Bee in Maryland. [Katherine Frey / The Washington Post] Sixteen Spellers will be battling for the title of champion of the Scripps National Spelling 2018 on Thursday night – under the bang of ESPN cameras, in a live televised television competition to fight Bee.
To get to that point, they had to spell out words like "Ascephos", "Uraeus" and "Conchylium" on stage in almost five hours beginning on Thursday morning at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland
Bee officials said the plan had been to reduce the field to about a dozen candidates for the prime-time competition. It took five rounds of stage spelling to get to 16, the largest group ever to enter the championship finals.
The children aged 11 to 14 had standing areas and comprised nine girls and seven boys. The Spellers come from all over the United States, plus one from Canada. And in recent years, several have appeared with the national bee.
"I'm just trying not to think about it," said Naysa Modi, a 12-year-old from Dallas, who competed on her fourth national bee when she was asked if she could be a favorite to win this year. "That's too much pressure."
Phoebe Smith used the back of her name badge to spell a word at the National Spelling Bee. She made it to the final. (Katherine Frey / The Washington Post)
Thursday had started with 41 donors who qualified for the finals after surviving the most intense competition in the bee's 93-year history.
This year, a record 516 spokespersons – compared with 291 the year before – due to a new invitation program called "RSVBee", which allows those who have not won a regional or state bee to still apply for nationals, if she won her school bee or a former national finalist
Speller's massive field began to seriously contend on Tuesday by taking a written exam so difficult that there were no perfect scores this year.
Noteworthy, however: All five Spellers who were highest on the test were among the 16 finalists. This included modes from Dallas; 14-year-old Sravanth Malla of Thiells, N.Y .; 14-year-old Karthik Nemmani of McKinney, Texas; 12-year-old Shruthika Padhy of Cherry Hill, N.J .; and 12-year-old Aisha Randhawa from Riverside, California.
The extended field also forced several logistical changes, such as an extra day of spelling on stage.
For hours on Tuesday and Wednesday the Spellers, aged 8 to 14 years, hundreds of mind-altering words, including "Glossodynia" (a pain in the tongue), "stolon" (a horizontal branch from the base of a plant that produces new plants from buds at its tip) or knots) and "triturate" (to crush or grind).
Attendees waited Wednesday for the third round of the National Spelling Bee. (Marvin Joseph / The Washington Post)
The extra spelling day meant that for the first time, Jacques Bailly, the bee's longtime jib – treated by Spellers with almost iconic veneration – paused to keep his voice over the microphone to associate the speaker Brian Sietsema for some of the preliminary rounds.
It was hard for him to retire, Bailly said Wednesday.
"I would probably run myself into the ground because I just love it," he said. "But I realize in three days that I have to take a few steps to make sure that I'm really on my game and that we have full attention for every Speller there." On Wednesday night, bee officials conducted a test to determine that 41 Spellers would go to the finals to compete under the glare of primetime television. (Bee rules state that no more than 50 candidates can reach the final.) The new wildcard program paid off for a number of Spellers: out of the 41 finalists, 16 had qualified through RSVBee, and four of those candidates moved on prime-time final.
ESPN will broadcast the "Primetime Finale" starting at 8:30 pm Thursday.
The Bee Winner will receive $ 40,000 and a Scripps Bee Trophy, a $ 2,500 cash prize (and a full reference library) from Merriam-Webster, travel to New York and Hollywood as part of a media tour, and a pizza party for your school.
The National Spelling Bee is all about the expanded field
From Stanford to Harvard, this teenager has applied to 20 colleges – and got full rides all of them
A teacher's solution To buy school supplies for her classroom: Panhandling