A total of 281 contestants from across the world have arrived at the Gaylord National in Oxon Hill, Maryland, for the 87th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, most of whom are guaranteed to make their elders feel unintelligent by comparison as they spell some of the toughest words in the dictionary.
The two-day event starts with Wednesday's preliminary rounds, but that just sets the stage for Thursday's day-long events. The action starts Thursday with the semifinals and concludes later in the evening with the final rounds.
Kids ranging ages 8 to 15 will be competing in the nation's biggest event for spellers, and with only 90 of the 281 making their first trip to the Bee, we might see a better competition than ever before.
Some even have family lineage to back them heading into the action, as the event's official Twitter noted:
A $30,000 cash prize is on the line for first place, but with ESPN broadcasting the finals and the world's appreciation for the annual event growing, national notoriety also awaits whoever hoists the trophy.
Let's dive right in and break down everything you need to know about this year's Scripps National Spelling Bee.
When: Preliminaries—Wednesday, May 28 at 8 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. ET on ESPN3
Semifinals—Thursday, May 29 at 10 a.m. ET on ESPN2
Championship Finals—Thursday, May 29 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
Where: Gaylord National; Oxon Hill, Maryland
Live Stream: ESPN3
How Preliminaries Work
For the second year in a row, the Spelling Bee will open up with a computerized vocabulary test—yes, vocab.
All 281 contestants will take the preliminary test to open up the action on Wednesday and then move on to the traditional two-round event where spellers must spell one word correctly in each round to keep from being eliminated.
Anyone who doesn't get eliminated in those two rounds will have their overall vocabulary test score added on top of the points earned for each of the words they spelled correctly. The contestants with the highest 50 scores will see their way into the semifinal round on Thursday.
Simply put, a poor performance in the vocabulary test can doom a contestant's ability to advance even if he or she doesn't misspell a word.
After first implementing the new procedure prior to the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee last year, executive director Paige Kimble explained the thought process behind it, per NBC News' Tracy Connor:
"My sense is that many of our champions knew exactly what they word meant before they spelled it," Kimble told NBC News.
"My sense is that it will not make it more challenging for these championship-level spellers because they recognize that spelling and the vocabulary are two sides of the same coin."
The announcement in 2013 came just six weeks before the Bee, leaving contestants much less time to hone in on preparing for the new and important wrinkle. With it now in the books for more than a year, the top spellers in the field should be well-prepared for the test.
Even after making the cut into the final 50 performers, these contestants have to go back to the computer, but not for vocab this time around.
Instead, each will attempt to spell 12 words for points similar to the preliminary round that will count later on—assuming they can spell two more words correctly in the semifinal round.
Should more than 12 of the 50 contestants make it past two of the most complicated words in the book, their point totals will be added up again, with the computer test playing a big part. The top 12 scores will see their way to the final round on Thursday night.
That's when it really gets good. Those who make it to the championship round will go round by round until just one is left standing.
Until then, though, fans and spectators who have made it a habit to tune into the excitement will be left anticipating.
As told by their ability to spell impossible words that nearly any educated adult would cringe at, these kids have prepared endlessly for their chance to shine in the spotlight. Tensions are sure to be high as they try to make those years of quizzes and spelling pay off in the form of a Spelling Bee championship.
One thing is certain—with a prime-time spot on ESPN, a lot of the nation will be watching.
Note: Information courtesy of the Spelling Bee's official site unless otherwise noted.
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