Kavya Shivashankar Wins, D.C. Waits
UPDATE: Someone just pointed out to me that, when skimming the results, I missed the fact that Leesburg's Daniel Greenblatt won the Bee in 1984. I guess that's D.C.-area. So kindly ignore the rest of this entry. Thanks.
By the end, we were down to two spellers. Centreville's Tim Ruiter, who got virtually no pre-Bee hype or backstory love from the ABC telecast, was trying to be the first-ever D.C.-area kid to win the National Spelling Bee. And resident superstar Kavya Shivashankar, the four-time National finalist, the media darling who was one of three spellers listed by name in pre-tournament betting odds, with the adorable little sister and the well-documented history of excellence, was trying to fulfill her hype-fueled destiny.
Yeah, we've seen this movie before, in that same neighborhood, with those same archetypes. Last spring, it was media darling LeBron James, stomping on a long-suffering D.C. team in Chinatown, to the delight of the television execs. This very spring, it was media darling Sidney Crosby, stomping on a long-suffering D.C. team in Chinatown, and then advancing all the way to the NHL's Stanley Cup Finals. That's how these stories end.
So it was no great surprise when Ruiter misspelled Maecenas as Mycenus, and Shivashankar breezed through Laodicean, and the media darling and acclaimed superstar once again celebrated a triumph on D.C. turf. All day, she was too good, too prepared, too confident, too ready for this moment. It was her time, and she deserved the trophy.
And so, yet again, D.C. waits.
I'm joking, of course. Sort of.
A few more impressions from another thrilling Bee:
* Foodstuffs were king on this day, from the afternoon session through to the finals. From Grenache to palatschinken (some sort of Eastern European pancake), from Caerphilly to Neufchatel (two kinds of cheese in one night!), from tagliatelle to fedelini to perciatelli (three kinds of pasta!), it was an ex-Whole Foods employee's dream.
* You can't really resent 13-year old kids in the same way you resent pro athletes, but wow, the little knowing smirk the eventual champion displayed when she clearly knew just about every word she was handed was tough to take. Hey, when you've got the goods, might as well flaunt it.
* If you weren't rooting for Kennyi Kwaku Aouad, your heart is filled with potting soil. What a face, what mannerisms, and what a knack for entertainment, from taking the mic away from sideline reporter Erin Andrews to pointing at his brother in the crowd to laughing his way through every trip to the front of the stage. As a colleague pointed out tonight, if there were endorsement deals for spellers, Kennyi would be Tiger Woods.
* Earlier in the day, I praised the organizers for inserting more humor into their "use it in a sentence" sentences, but I'll now back away from that position. Somewhere between the semifinals the finals, something changed. Several of the kids got dressed up, shedding the casual Tuesday-in-English-class look for something more formal. Soft pre-teen features tightened up, and voices quivered, and tears flowed. When you get that close to the pinnacle, maybe it's a bit cruel to be interjecting asides focused on YouTube videos of grandmas having sneezing fits.
Plus, the pronouncer began offering up these sentences unprompted, with the writers presumably whispering in his earpiece that their jokes were too good not to be heard by a national audience. That immediately killed the charm, turning the affair from Bugs Bunny making adult jokes in cartoons into dad making uncomfortable jokes during a speech at his daughter's wedding. Let the kids have their moment.
* Dancing With the Stars is over. Was that Shawn Johnson interview really necessary? If we needed to see an Olympic sweetheart, I would have preferred an ice skater, for the inevitable "how do you spell triple salchow?" jokes if nothing else.
* It's a question every viewer of the Bee asks every year, and I still don't know the answer. A misspelled word is obvious to TV viewers at home, and it's gotta be just as obvious to the judges. Why can't they ding the heck out of their little bells as soon as the ugly mistakes are completed. Why insert that massive, horrifying pause, during which every viewer already knows the awful truth, with the contestants forced to wait a mini-eternity for their dreams to be punctured by ringing?
"Ding!" shouted out the bubbly Neetu Chandak, eliminating herself as soon as she finished "derriengue." Those immediate dings should be a lesson for the organizers.
* I was pleased to learn that the winner would receive Encyclopedia products. I've heard the young generation is really into large, bound reference books, there being few other options for quickly answering research-type questions nowadays.
* Why should sports fans love this event? It lurches toward the best of March Madness as few other events can. There are favorites, who are most often there at the end, like Shivashankar tonight. But there are upsets, too: last year's runner-up, Sidharth Chand, was felled in Round 8, ahead of several lesser-known contestants. There's the kind of diversity that can draw in the entire country; the final seven hailed from both coasts and the country's innards, were male and female, white and black.
There are faces you've seen countless times--Kavya's little sister has gotten as much exposure as Tyler Hansbrough--mixed with unknowns who bubble up unannounced, like Ruiter this year, carrying a touch of George Mason in from Fairfax.
And most of all, it's sudden death in a way few things are. Best-of-seven series are great, but it's hard to get too worked up over the first quarter of the first game of one of those NBA fortnights. But if you stepped away for just a second tonight, you could have missed Chand get KO's by apodyterium. That's drama. That's why we watch.
Well, that and betting pools.
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