In the spelling bee world, tie-breakers are H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E. For two years, spellers had been taking a written pre-test—just in case a single champion didn’t emerge during the finals. Now Scripps National Spelling Bee organizers have ditched the tie-breaker.
The test began in 2017 after three consecutive bees ended with co-champions. Bee executive director Paige Kimble says it wasn’t worth the trouble. “It was just squeezing way too much in a short timespan when really what these kids needed more than anything else was to rest a little bit, put food in their stomachs and clear their heads,” she says.
On the last day, the morning rounds can last several hours, until mid-afternoon. The remaining spellers then have to squeeze in time to eat, do interviews and other prep work for the broadcast—plus take a tie-breaker test before the evening TV broadcast.
Many spellers worry more about fairness than whether the audience wants two winners. “I really don’t see what’s so wrong with co-champions,” says 13-year-old Simone Kaplan. She finished tied for 10th last year and is back for another go at this year’s bee.
“If people are at that level, they really deserve to be co-champs,” says 13-year-old returning speller Aisha Randhawa, who tied for seventh last year.
A common complaint among spellers is that the test included not just spelling but vocabulary questions. Naysa Modi, last year’s runner-up, says, “When it comes to deciding who the champion is going to be, I think it should be all down to spelling and not having to factor in vocab.”
Tie-breaker results weren’t needed the past two years, so the results of those tests aren’t known.
Naysa will be back for this year’s bee. “I’ll be more relaxed this year and less stressed out, if I make it.” The Scripps National Spelling Bee starts May 27, and ties will be OK. H-O-O-R-A-Y!
Have you ever participated in a spelling bee?
(In this May 28, 2015, photo, Vanya Shivashankar, left, and Gokul Venkatachalam, hold the championship trophy as co-champions of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)