[Note to readers: I will be abandoning the Spelling Bee momentarily. This is one of the poorest decisions in modern sports blogging history.]
In regards to the concerns, stated below, about Spelling Bees and pressure: Look, I get that people challenge the results of pinewood derby contests in rural Arkansas, and that any competition will lead to tension and stress and judicial uncertainty, regardless of the stakes. It just seems to me that if our society places too much importance on something we all agree to be trivial (i.e., basketball), the solution isn't necessarily to place a corresponding weight on something that is also sort of trivial, all things considered, like spelling the names of various types of cheese. (Someone told me that four different cheese names have already been served up as spelling words this year, including reblochon, which I would have gotten, easily.)
Luckily, there was at least one speller who was with me on all of this, and who made me feel infinitely better about the whole deal. When I found Sarah Mirza of Grand Island, Nebraska, she was being interviewed about her sixth-round exit from the Bee, just before the grand finale.
"Good riddance," she was saying.
I drew closer, since this seemed interesting.
"Feel free to eavesdrop," she told me. "It'll save time. You won't have to ask me the same questions."
And really, she didn't mean "good riddance," but it was just an easy way for her to indicate that she understand how much this event really means (i.e., not all that much). A fair number of the questions today were of the let's-make-this-seem-important, or at least let's-make-this-seem-meaningful variety. Sarah Mirza doesn't roll with those questions. She was asked about the social aspects of her time in D.C.
"I mean, it's not any different than going to any other place full of people and, you know, randomly talking to them," she said. "It's just meeting people."
She was asked what life lessons she'll take away from this experience.
"I don't know," she said. "I'm trying to think of something pleasantly insignificant. But I haven't really, apart from how to spell lots of useless words."
She listed her interests as "reading, writing, ranting, raving, running and alliteration," and apologized to the local reporter for excessive snarkiness. I asked about the "good riddance" thing.
"I've been doing this, people have been trying to train me for it since fourth grade," she explained. "I made it this far. I'm happy with that. I don't have to be trapped in a room being interviewed over and over and over for the next six hours until finals.... Between now and then I would much rather be a tourist than in a room not being able to get back through security."
Her mom stepped in to clarify a few things; like, for example, the fact that Sarah has actually only practiced spelling for a total of one hour since March. Sarah said she got lucky. She also said she was glad to be eliminated before the finals, due to the since-proven-true rumors of a White House visit.
"We didn't want any part of that, even being from what state we're from," her mom said.
"We went and heckled the President when he came to Grand Island to convince us to vote for his Republican buddies," Sarah said, and just imagine what would have happened if she actually had made the Finals and was asked about her super-duper White House visit.
I asked whether she didn't think this was a useful skill that would boost her standing in life, this spelling thing.
"Well, I've always known how to spell," she said. "I mean, yeah, being able to spell is a good skill to have the rest of your life. It'll make your CV's look better and stuff like that. But being able to spell whatever my word was? I don't even remember, mouchoir? No. I'm never going to use it again."
Then why, I asked her, do people seem to care so much, with the huge TV audience and the live blogs and all that.
"I couldn't tell you," she said. "Honestly, I don't know."