It doesn't matter that spelling words on stage isn't a sport, because you would be hard-pressed to find more enthralling competition than that which takes place at the Scripps National Spelling Bee each spring.
Those who tuned into Thursday's competition were likely unable to look away as the event finished in a compelling tie for the first time since 1962, per CNN on Twitter:
After the massive field was trimmed to two, the eventual co-champions, Sriram Hathwar of New York and Ansun Sujoe of Texas, went toe-to-toe in what turned out to be a dramatic spell-off until there were no more words left to spell. While many viewers likely rolled their eyes when announcers compared the showdown to a 12-round heavyweight fight, there's no doubt the final moments had every bit as much appeal.
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With more than $33,000 on the line, including a $30,000 cash prize, the stakes are high enough to raise the intensity in the waning moments.
After Sujoe spelled "feuilleton" correctly under duress to split the championship, both competitors looked beyond satisfied for the event to be over.
Afterward, Hathwar expressed genuine relief, per USA Today's Donovan Slack:
"I think we both knew that the competition was against the dictionary, not each other. I'm happy to share this trophy with him"
Given that the event is televised nationally on ESPN and broadcast in prime time, the competitors are not only battling their memory and the clock, but also the nerves that come with such a massive stage.
There's something to be said when youngsters—a majority of them ages 12 to 14—are able to perform at such a high level under the microscope. It's the fact that these competitors are not only spelling seemingly impossible words, but that they're also doing so under the most stressful conditions imaginable.
In addition to the intense competition and high stakes, a handful of characters seem to emerge each year. This year it was 15-year-old Jacob Williamson, who celebrated every word pronouncer Jacques Bailly sent his way, ultimately crashing out of the competition after misspelling "kabaragoya," per the event's official Twitter account:
Nonetheless, the entertaining moment captured the attention of Golden State Warriors star Andre Iguodala:
Kabaragoya— Andre Iguodala (@andre) May 30, 2014
You don't have to be a wordsmith or an English teacher to appreciate the National Spelling Bee. You don't even have to be a sports fan.
It's the competition and the uniqueness factor of the Bee that makes it so appealing and the reason why ESPN has opted to bring it to a national audience each and every year. And whether you're still bitter about that fifth-grade spelling test or would rather fill your time with actual sports, there's no denying that the Scripps National Spelling Bee has become must-see television.
It remains to be seen whether the event will gain momentum next year, but the buzz generated by 2014's memorable conclusion is sure to draw viewers in, even if they're unwilling to admit it.
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