OXON HILL, Md. — Five memorable moments from Thursday’s semifinals and finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee:
Jacob Williamson of Cape Coral, Florida, took a confident, aggressive approach to his first and only appearance in the National Spelling Bee — until it cost him.
If he thought he knew a word, the 15-year-old didn’t bother to do what nearly every speller does: ask questions about the definition, etymology and part of speech, just to be sure.
He also made no attempt to hide his delight.
“I know it! I know it!” he yelled after hearing the word “kabaragoya,” a large, aquatic lizard. He almost knew it — but he started with a “c” instead of a “k.”
“What?” he said as the bell signaled his departure. He finished in seventh place.
“I thought I knew that word, but I guess I didn’t,” he said afterward.
Deadspin turned Jacob’s entertaining response into a rap remix featuring Lil Jon’s hit song “Turn Down for What.”
When you’re stumped, you’re stumped.
After hearing the word “hallenkirche,” a German-derived term for a Gothic church, Tejas Muthusamy, the youngest finalist at age 11, said, “Oh-kaaay.”
Tejas, from Glen Allen, Virginia, made a game attempt before tripping up on the final hard consonant sound. But he wasn’t at all surprised to get it wrong.
“Obviously,” he said with a smile as he heard the bell signaling a misspelled word.
“I was just ecstatic when I was named as a championship finalist and was just happy to get past the first round,” he said. “Even though I got a hard word, I managed it well.”
Champion spellers can find humor where others might miss it.
Gokul Venkatachalam, who usually spelled and quizzed pronouncer Jacques Bailly in a deadpan monotone, had a quick one-liner when he got the word “guttatim,” which means drop by drop. “Guh-TAY-tim, guh-TAH-tim,” he said, riffing on the line “You say toh-MAY-toh, I say toh-MAH-toh” from the song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”
Gokul got a big laugh from the crowd and struggled to suppress a smile as he spelled the word easily. The 13-year-old from Chesterfield, Missouri, ended up finishing third and would be among the favorites if he returns next year, his final year of eligibility.
Jae Canetti of Falls Church, Virginia, making his third appearance in the bee, was eliminated from the semifinals immediately after ESPN2 profiled him and his family. His mother was diagnosed with cancer just two months before last year’s bee, which he said affected his preparation and concentration, and he missed the semifinals by one point. She has since recovered and was in the audience Thursday.
Jae received a standing ovation after he misspelled “parseval,” a non-rigid airship.
“That show of support really has comforted me,” Jae said afterward in a televised interview.
Normally calm onstage, Jae squinted and fidgeted as he tried to guess the word. The 12-year-old seventh-grader has one year of eligibility remaining.
“The one word I didn’t know, pretty much,” Jae said. “I’ve just got to study more German.”
At 5-foot-10, Kate Miller of Abilene, Texas, is accustomed to towering over her fellow spellers. A dancer and an aspiring writer, her hobbies include film analysis, knitting Rodentia and “crafting irreverent travesties of pop songs,” according to her official spelling bee biography.
“I’m not the tallest speller, but I’m the tallest finalist,” Kate said. “When I competed in sixth grade, I was 5-8, and when I competed in seventh grade, I was 5-9, and in eighth grade, fittingly, I’m 5-10.”
Kate smiled throughout her time onstage and leaned over to speak into the microphone. When she was eliminated from the finals, she gave a regal wave to the crowd. Earlier, she said she enjoys being nervous, and she admitted her first semifinal word, “duello,” was “a complete guess.”
“I feel more alive when I’m nervous. I think that a bit of nervous energy, not debilitating to the point where you can’t remember what you’ve learned, but a certain amount of nervousness really does help you,” she said. “It helps you remember why you’re there.”
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