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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.

Tim Ruiter, making D.C. proud with a tie for second. (By Richard A. Lipski - TWP)

* 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.

By Dan Steinberg  |  May 28, 2009; 11:21 PM ET
Categories:  Weirdness  
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Next: Stoudemire on Wiz Rumors: "I Love D.C."


ABC could launch their primetime schedule around Kennyi. I expect him to be part of their upfronts. That kid was great. The girl saying "ding" after spelling the word wrong was another good moment. I wanted the local representation to do well, but Ruiter had the look and mannerisms of a kid I normally wouldn't pull for or get behind. It was evident that Shivashankar was going to take the win late in the final.

Posted by: sitruc | May 29, 2009 2:06 AM | Report abuse

Dan, hope u can get to cover more of the skins beat.

Posted by: alex35332 | May 29, 2009 8:33 AM | Report abuse

So when does Sally Jenkins set aside her Lance Armstrong Can Do No Wrong pen and go all Little League World Series on the Bee?

Posted by: jhorstma | May 29, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Oh wow Dan, can you dis play your anti-Indian racism in a bit more straight forward manner, it is not coming through clearly enough. White and black races were represented - did you overlook that 7 of the 11 finalists were of Indian ancestry? Was that a bit too inconvenient for you to mention? And wow, all that diatribe against Kavya, a 13 year old; you tried to couch it in the form of pro-underdog stance and all, but give me a break. If she were a local blond, you would n't have been so anto-favorite, would you? And precisely what advantages did she receive due to being a favorite? Easier words? Easier refereeing from the judges?

As it were, Tim and that other Indian girl were both eliminated in the same last round, but somehow, he is #2? How? It was a tie for #2, but no press note even mentions her name or the fact she tied for #2. But then the press is not dominated by Indians, so you guys get a free pass to display your racist behavior.

Shame on ABC too; there were 7 Indian kids and 4 non-Indian kids, but ABC nicely profiled 3 of the 4 non-Indian kids, but just 2 of the 7 Indian kids. I guess it is OK to show racist behavior when it comes to Indians and other small population immigrants still.

Posted by: intcamd1 | May 29, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Don't worry Dan. Tim will be back next year. He's got one more shot.

Posted by: MaxWass | May 29, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Cavs > Wiz. always. enjoy.

Posted by: popopo | May 29, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse


Daniel Greenblatt, of Leesburg, VA, won in 1984. FYI.

Unless you're saying that Leesburg isn't DC-area?

Posted by: yatesc1 | May 29, 2009 12:53 PM | Report abuse

intcamd1: There is a reason why ABC profiled certain spellers over others - they were the ones the American viewing audience could most easily tolerate. Have you ever seen or heard Sidharth Chand being interviewed? I have and it is PAINFUL...he is socially awkward and the entire process is uncomfortable for everyone - you can tell that he would rather be anywhere else.

Look at the kids on they seem like a representative cross-section of the country's 10-13 year old population? While a few participants are your typical soccer and video game playing adolescent, this event attracts a certain type of kid and most of them are somewhere on the autism spectrum such Asperger's syndrome. It is part of the pattern that they obsess over spelling and are into activities like fantasy and role-playing games. Step back and look at the parents - I think that it is great to give encouragement, but spelling parents can be at least as noxious as Little League parents.

ABC was not xenophobic - they are an entertainment company and they presented the program in a way which was felt to be most appealing to viewers and advertisers.

Posted by: skipper7 | May 29, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

skipper7 -

If you had proof of your claim that the spellers are autistic or worse, you should present it. Several successful spllers I know of, have become quite successful in the real world. An Indian kid that won the National Bee a few years ago, won the Teen Jeopardy last year, and he blew off the competition, and I think he is headed to one of the nation's best universities. If not, you should stop tarnishing these kids with a ridiculous slander that most of them are autistic or have Aspegers, or whatever comes to your mind.

As for ABC, they were more than xenophobic, they were racist. They purposely profiled non-Indians. Just statistically itself, Indian kids had more than 60% chance of getting profiled, but 3 of the five to be profiled were non-Indian.

As for your assertion that this is what America wants to see, well gee, guess that makes it alright huh?! So, the country did n't want to see Black people on TV in the pre-civil right days, so that made it OK too? Actively promoting racism and then hiding behind a cloak of viewer interest, does not make it right.

You have no proof that all the Indian kids were awkward and non-social. It did n't seem like that Asian kid was any more photogenic, not much more than many of the Indian kids. But Indians number less than 2 million in this country, and even those are notoriously confrontation-shy, so ABC knows they can treat them as badly as it wants, and no one will care.

As for the pondscum Dan's rants against Kavya, the less said the better.

Posted by: cdns21 | May 29, 2009 6:42 PM | Report abuse

That racist fool Dan thinks Kavya had an annoying smirk every time she knew a word.

Let us see, you are a 13 year old, the judges give a tough word and you happen to know it because you studied your *ss off, but according to this racist pondscum Danny you are supposed to maintain a stony and poker face, as if you just saw the ghost, just so that pondscum Danny does not get annoyed.

Good going Danny!

Posted by: cdns21 | May 29, 2009 7:47 PM | Report abuse

WTF are intcamd1 and cdns21 going on about? In the context of this piece, why does it matter that there was a tie for second? Unless the other second place finisher(who evidently is only significant for her ethnic background) was from the area, the fact is irrelevant. Also, I think it's insulting and very offensive how you make any sort of autism to sound like a negative trait, cdns21. Even the television announcers made note of Kavya's actions when it was obvious she knew the spelling of the word. It was distracting to the casusal viewer. You're entitled to your own feelings and opinions though. I think it is annoying that you were annoyed by the annoyance.

Posted by: sitruc | May 29, 2009 8:18 PM | Report abuse

sitruc ,

It is obvious you are **&ing redneck. So you seriously believe that autism is a compliment? How about a mental retard - if I called you that, you should not complain, since that might be an insult to people suffering from certain illnesses. As for who cares about 2nd place finish, well, the person who gets #3, that's who. Have you hard of a thing called runner-up, silber medal vs bronze, ... If both contestants go out in the same round, HTF did one get the silver and the other the bronze? Just because he was sitting in the back bench?

As for your idiotic defense that even the TV announcers were going off on Kavya, that is so braindead - it is precisely those idiotic TV announcers and that racist ABC, that I think were out of line.

Gee, you are acting as if Kavya was chest thumping, acting like a spoiler NBA brat, blah blah, just because she gave a slight smirk when she knew the word. Fools like you live in a bizarro world.

Posted by: cdns21 | May 29, 2009 10:35 PM | Report abuse

Great post, cdns21. I love irony. I especially liked your personal attacks while you accuse others of being xenophobic and racist. Too bad your spelling is as bad as your reading comprehension(silber). Since I'm a nice guy, I'll let you try again unlike at a "bee" where after you fail and the next person succeeds, you're out. To begin with, instead of digging a bigger hole for yourself regarding mental disorders, you may want to research the autism spectrum and Asperger's syndrome, cdns21.

Posted by: sitruc | May 30, 2009 12:18 AM | Report abuse

Jimmy Fallon is endorsing Tim Ruiter to win next year. It was bad enough when the racism and xenophobia were limited to Disney. Now GE is joining in.

Posted by: sitruc | May 30, 2009 12:51 AM | Report abuse

Dude you guys are crazy lol... the thing about those clips are they didn't film them all each year... at 2008 they picked 5 kids and Kennyi happened to be one of them so they took a bunch of footage of him at school, home, at collet park and stuff then since he didn't make it to the finals, they had all of that footage to use this year if he made it - they didn't come film anything this year for him whatsoever, so the fact that they omitted certain spellers is because they don't know for sure who will make it to the finals so they have to guess and hope they get it right... or have another year to possibly use the footage.

Posted by: emumu | May 30, 2009 3:21 AM | Report abuse


Congratulations, you mastered how to spell Silver; that must make up for your failure to get that high school diploma at the age of 40. If you keep up like this, you might get a promotion from that janitor job yet.

Nice guy, eh? Nice as in, nice xenophobic redneck? Racist neanderthals like you gave feeble excuses like American people are not ready, for things like "not ready for a black president", "inter-racial dating scenes on TV are taboo", "keep colored faces off the TV screen", and so on. Is that racist xenophobia of yours a natural side effect of that mental disorder that you seem to be so proud of?

Posted by: cdns21 | May 30, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Racist retards like Sitruc and skipper were precisely the kind of scum that were sending threats to Jackie R when he broke in, claiming American people did n't want to see different faces on TV.

What these Neanderthals don't understand is, how difficult it is for a parent - for who English is a 2nd or even a 3rd language - to coach his/her kid to a spelling bee honors. To those parents, the prnounciation does not come naturally, the roots are unfamiliar, and there is no intuitive grasp of a thousand nuances that can go into preparing for a bee. Instead of appreciating their hard work, Neandearthal scum like Sitruc just sit there and pass dumb comments.

Posted by: cdns21 | May 30, 2009 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Is calling someone "Danny" as insulting as people intend it to be?

Posted by: trolly_time | May 30, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

cdns21, I'm a redneck and I'm offended that you use it as a derogatory term. Go out and enjoy the sunshine today and relax.

Posted by: trolly_time | May 30, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

It's always so refreshing to see people in comment sections know me so well. I wouldn't want people on the internet to think I'm a young, college educated, black guy with a good job and a white girlfriend. Those are all horrible things that I would quickly deny.

Racist, xenophobic, redneck...I don't think those mean what you think they mean, cdns21. What did I say that was racist or hint at any sort of mental disorder?

Posted by: sitruc | May 31, 2009 12:39 AM | Report abuse

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