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Orange::44 Jumps the Shark

There is an obsession deep inside my being that is infatuated with what I like to call “anti-sports.”

Anti-sports are difficult to characterize. Many pursuits fall into the category; however, it is virtually impossible to create a set of attributes that delineate between an anti-sport and a full-blown athletic activity.

Probably the best way to illustrate what is an anti-sport is to throw out a series of activities that fit the mold. Pursuits that I consider to be anti-sports include, but certainly are not limited to:

• Chess;
• Ping-pong;
• Ballroom dancing;
• Eating lots and lots of hotdogs in one sitting;
• Archery; and, of course
• Curling

As a result of my fascination with anti-sports, I feel compelled to do a liveblog of tonight’s Scripps National Spelling Bee. Spelling bees appear to be the epitome of an anti-sport: the activity is a competitive contest, yet the only athleticism inherent in such a pursuit seems to be an individual’s ability to walk to and from a microphone.

Thus, what follows is a series of thoughts and ruminations about the horrific events appearing before me on ABC. As always, there is nothing more fun than watching a series of boys and girls eschew a normal childhood for the fleeting glory that is spelling words they will never be asked to apply later in life.

7:48 PM
On the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, there was a brief discussion with an author named James MacGwire. MacGwire wrote a book entitled American Bee: The American Spelling Bee and the Culture of Spelling Nerds.

[Eds. Note: If you’re not watching Jim Lehrer on a somewhat daily basis, you’re doing a disservice to the gunk between your ears.]

MacGwire is mentioning that the organizers distribute a consolidated word list with 23,000 words and that the spellers generally memorize the entire thing.

What the hell is that? That’s not intelligence!

To fully understand this statement an example may be of assistance. I am currently studying for the Connecticut bar examination. In an effort to hopefully pass on the first try, I generally spend eight to ten hours a day studying the law and reading case squibs. However, simply memorizing what the law says will not result in a passing mark on the examination. Rather, one must garner an understanding of what the law means and how it is applied. In short, memorization is not the key; context and comprehension is what proves intelligence.

Here, the spellers are not asked to show their true intelligence. All they are asked to do is regurgitate information they have stored in their memory banks. True scholarship is not being promoted in this competition. It is merely an exercise in reflexive action.

8:00 PM
ABC has just gone live. The tension is palpable. Or not. Probably the latter.

8:04 PM
So, Robin Roberts is hosting this display of maladjusted children. In just a span of a decade or so, Roberts has gone from women’s college basketball legend, to ESPN SportsCenter anchor, to news anchor on Good Morning America, to host for the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

How come nobody is talking about her fall from grace? While not as drastic as the tailspin Britney Spears has been in, I think Roberts’ is pretty damn noteworthy.

8:06 PM
It appears as if Syracuse, New York has a contestant in the competition: Michael Christie. I am officially adopting him as the Orange::44 favorite.

The only thing that I think can stop him is the fact that he is wearing a placard with the words “Syracuse Post-Standard” on it. Let’s hope he can overcome the jinx that is upstate New York’s foremost daily rag.

8:08 PM
Being televised right now is a profile piece highlighting home schooled competitor Jonathan Horton. Superficially, Horton appears to be a young Milton from Office Space. From a personality perspective, he has all the character traits of a young David Berkowitz.

For whatever reason, home schooled children seem to have a social acumen illustrative of the homeless. Horton believes that if he dedicated himself to basketball, he could play in the NBA. Given my brief view of his athletic exploits, however, I am fairly sure that the orange leather is his kryptonite.

Let this serve as your warning: do not home school Junior. This vignette is solid proof that sending your child to a public school infused with drugs and automatic assault rifles is still better than allowing a child to learn on your kitchen table.

8:12 PM
International spellers? I feel bad for those Canadian, British, and Australian spellers crippled by the superfluous vowels in their form of the language.


Shouldn’t these kids get to play with a handicap like golfers?

8:14 PM
We have our first loser of the primetime rounds. Number 48 goes down on “Nauruz.”

What a shame. His life is ruined. I hope that he is ready for an exciting life of community college and heating and air conditioning repair.

8:17 PM
There is apparently a 10 year-old in this competition. I’m pretty sure that when I was ten years old I was more infatuated with farting in the tub than reading the dictionary.

Had the young lady not misspelled gematrial, I was very close to questioning her actual age. After Danny Almonte, you can never be too sure.

8:18 PM
Oh, man, this is great. Going into break ABC ran a taped piece with the “wrong spelling” bell ringing and the spellers reacting at the microphone. I am convinced that the failure of children will always rank high on the list of Agony of Defeat moments.

8:25 PM
The irony, I am discovering, is that I am critically analyzing the spelling bee and without spell check, this notebook would look as if I never advanced out of remedial English class.

8:26 PM
Michael Christie is at the microphone.

Don’t pull a Patterson.

8:27 PM
He needs to spell epityphlitis. Given the fact that I am convinced this word does not exist, I am fairly certain that he is going to bonk this one off the upright.

8:28 PM
Take that, Merriam-Webster! Without a flinch, Christie slams home the word. He is now my hero. Move over, Brendan Carney.

8:32 PM

Hit the bricks, number 184! It’s good you got out early, because had you stayed in Christie’s path, you would have merely become scorched earth.

8:33 PM

Are they really going to go two hours with coverage? These kids are dropping like flies. There are only eight spellers left and an hour and a half of programming remaining.

If the coverage falls short, I hope that ABC will bestow some Coach reruns on all of us as a reward for watching this garbage.

8:36 PM
The Eighth Round has just come to a close and eight spellers remain. There has been no word yet as to whether my life is pitiful or just woefully lame.

8:41 PM
Reinstatement! Feel the drama!

Speller 180 has been placed back into the field because the old people with spelling degrees apparently have not mastered the technique of listening. She was supposed to spell “hechscher” and actually spelled some derivative of the word. After conferencing during the commercial break, the judges determined that her spelling was sufficient and placed her back into the field of social misfits.

Anybody else feeling a burgeoning Fifth Down scenario playing out?

Normally, this would be cause for concern. The color commentary guy seems to believe that she is a strong speller, which residually affects Christie’s ability to hoist the championship trophy at this end of this exercise in awkwardness. However, as Christie is to spelling as Barry Bonds is to being a douchebag, I am only marginally worried.

8:47 PM
Wow, nobody from Illinois has won in 75 years.


8:54 PM
Michael Christie has just stepped up to the microphone and correctly spelled the word Coryphaeus. Christie appeared a little jittery while spelling but did not succumb to the pressure.

Before Christie crushed his word, the graphic next to him noted that he enjoys rock collecting. Seriously. Who still collect rocks? This is the 21st century, there are things in life more interesting than rock collecting. Those things include, but are not limited to, eating asparagus until your pee smells funny and punching yourself in the face.

9:06 PM
Round ten has begun. Seven future Christie Victims remain.

9:09 PM

And Jonathan Horton, the home schooled competitor, goes down in flames on the word “sciolto.” He has a bright future of spelling and not talking to girls ahead of him.

9:19 PM
Michael Christie is once again at the microphone prepared to slaughter his competition. He needs to spell the word “appenzell.”

9:20 PM
And Christie is gone, incorrectly butchering the aforementioned word. With Christie’s departure, Syracuse has not had a national champion since 1976. I’m not sure whether that is a long drought or par for the course.

While it was fun to see Christie advance in this competition, there was not chance in hell that he was going to win the championship. The City of Syracuse is permitted (at the very most) one national championship per year. With LeMoyne College capturing the Division II lacrosse national championship last Sunday, Christie was working on borrowed time.

Christie can go home happy knowing that in one day of spelling, he was more successful than the local college football team. Congratulations, young man.

9:25 PM
Round eleven has started. Five spellers remain. None have moustaches, which is troubling.

One of the great aspects of the Scripps National Spelling Bee is the proliferation of wispy adolescent moustaches. There are few things on this planet that can match the “Yeah, I’m a speller, but I also enjoy working on carburetors” look.

9:31 PM
All of the sports clichés spewing out of the mouth of the color commentator has gotten me thinking.

When I was a kid growing up my sports idol was Boston Red Sox rightfielder Dwight Evans. To me, he was the alpha and omega of baseball. I would imitate his every mannerism, including hanging water cups off my ears in the hopes of sparking a rally, just as Dewey did back in the day when the Sox squared off against the Seattle Mariners in a legendary extra inning affair.

The question, therefore, is who do these spellers have to look up to? You can’t seriously expect that any of these kids want to be that freaky, twitchy little fourteen year-old girl that used to cover her mouth before saying the next letter in a word. Nobody knocks out a word that makes you go, “Man, that guy is the shit. I have to get the same pair of stone khakis he is wearing. Maybe I’ll even grow a wispy moustache just like him.”

9:35 PM
There is a kid on television spelling a word with 45 letters. I am not sure what is more disappointing – that kid taking the time to learn and spell the word, or the fact that somebody would sit down and create that word.

9:40 PM
We are in the Championship Round. I am not sure what this means, but the program is officially at that stage.

I am not sure who is going to win this thing, but I am now throwing my support behind the Canadian speller from Alberta. I figure if anyone is going to win something so wound into the American fabric, it should be somebody who doesn’t hold citizenship here.

9:44 PM
Potential tri-champions? A tie? In spelling?

Horseshit! Make them spell all night.

If there is a tie, I just may burn down the internet in anger. It’s a national finals competition. There must be winners and losers. Everyone can’t walk out of the fire with ribbons. That is patently un-American.

9:47 PM

Number 180 is done. Again. Apparently, the spelling bee is not fixed, unlike the NBA Draft.

We’re down to two spellers.

9:49 PM
I think I have discovered one of the dividing lines between anti-sports and full blown athletic activity: if the activity can be held in a hotel ballroom or small theater, the activity is, at best, an anti-sport.

Or, if you prefer: if you can spit on the ground and suffer no repercussions, the activity is probably a full blown athletic activity rather than an anti-sport.

9:50 PM
I think these girls should be given pistols and forced to duel to the death rather than spell. I would also support bull riding or arm wrestling as alternatives to a spell-off.

That, my friends, is how you get ratings.

9:57 PM
20 words remain. Praise Allah!

9:58 PM
18 words.

9:59 PM

If I was competing, I would just quit at this point and head out for a beer. But that’s just me.

10:02 PM
12 words left. The Canadian Widowmaker has the eye of the tiger. She will not be denied.

10:03 PM

Probably the most interesting thing on the television right now is that the local ABC affiliate is running a scroll letting everyone know that the National Weather Service has issued a flash flood warning for Connecticut’s Hartford, Tolland, and Windham counties. Hopefully this soaking rain will wash away all the dirtiness I feel right now for having watched and critiqued two hours of adolescent spelling.

10:06 PM
And down goes the Canadian spelling wizard. If the other competitor spells the next two words correctly, the Canadian wonder is gone.

Given the fact that I have thrown my support behind the potential loser, there is no question that these words will be spelled correctly by her opponent.

10:08 PM
. . . and the Canadian loses. The Orange::44 jinx continues.

7 Responses to “Orange::44 Jumps the Shark”

  1. # Anonymous Brian Harrison

    A supplemental to the giant liveblog above:

    Michael Christie came in sixth place, which isn't bad as it was his second trip to the Natty Bee.

    Danny Almonte is now 19 and will probably be taken in the amateur draft on June 6th and 7th according to He is married, and if he isn't selected in the draft, will have a scholarship waiting at New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs, N.M. I guess cheaters do sometimes win.

    The foreign competitors got to spell the letter Z by saying "zed". It really bothered me.

    The color commentator for the bee was a ninth place finisher in 1990. How does this qualify him to be on ESPN or ABC again? Just a thought.

    The city of Syracuse had 2 National Championships in 2004. Syracuse University won the Division I NCAA Lacrosse Championship beating Navy by a goal on Memorial Day, while Le Moyne College won the Division II NCAA National Championship the day before at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Thus, Syracuse was renamed "The City of Champions" by Mayor Matthew Driscoll.

    7th graders with fake mustaches are hilarious and will always be that way.  

  2. # Anonymous Matt Barker


    I have inlcuded a link to your blog on my site, "Buckeye Banter"
    @, and I was wondering if you could


  3. # Anonymous Matt

    To Matt Barker:
    Yeah, I'll throw a link onto the front page for you.

    A redesign/move is (hopefully) coming this summer, so just keep a heads up on the link address to this notebook.

    I heard a rumor that Almonte was married to like a 35 year old lady. If that's true, he's a bigger douchebag than I originally thought.  

  4. # Anonymous Dave Pearson

    I think Almonte's blushing bride tipped the scales at 30 years old. Still pretty bad though.  

  5. # Anonymous Peter Bean

    Matt: that was the best blog post I've read anywhere in a long while. Thanks.  

  6. # Anonymous Matt Newland

    Got to second that praise. I'm new here but I just want to thank you for allowing me to spend 15 glorious minutes out of my not so fun work day reading your spelling bee play by play. Yes, 15 minutes because I could not stop the flow of tears from laughing so hard. Freaking sweet. The people in the cube next to me are giving me even more unusual looks than normal...

    Go Orange from everyone in the Longhorn nation.  

  7. # Anonymous Matt

    The 30 year-old threshold is an interesting concept.

    I'm pretty sure that if you're under, say, 28 and marry a lady 30 or over, you've made a horrendous life decision meriting constant ridicule. If she's under 28, then let the high fives fly.

    This rule, of course, is totally different for younger ladies getting hitched to men over 30. I say once a man crosses the 30 barrier, he is obligated to get hitched to a fine lady aged 25 or younger.  

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