Spring is in full bloom, and that means one thing: It’s time for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the most intense annual event on the sports calendar. If you haven’t kept up with competitive spelling since last May’s epic duel between Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam, fear not! I’ve put together a guide to answer all of your burning questions. Let’s dive into it.
Will this year’s Bee end in another tie?
As spelling aficionados are well aware, the past two Bees have resulted in ties, something that was previously unprecedented. (Before 2014, the last tie came in 1962.) This has ignited a firestorm of controversy in the spelling world: Is the Bee communist? How will millennials grasp the importance of winning if we can’t name an undisputed Bee champion? Has the Bee taken the torch for “most flawed system in sports” since the BCS’s demise? It’s a wonder that Donald Trump hasn’t invoked one of these talking points in a stump speech.
Fortunately, Scripps recently enacted some changes to virtually eliminate the possibility of a tie. The main one: Judges will no longer be constrained to a predetermined bank of words; instead, they’ll be able to select tougher words at their discretion, which should prevent an interminable back-and-forth between finalists. Kudos to the Bee for having a more efficient competition committee than the NFL.
How can I watch the Bee?
Preliminary action can be found on ESPN3 throughout most of Wednesday. The finals start on ESPN2 at 10 a.m. ET Thursday and move to ESPN at 8 p.m. Plan accordingly!
Is there a betting favorite?
Lamentably, online sportsbooks don’t offer odds on the Bee. But I’m expecting big things out of second-year participant Mollie Dugan, who has received plenty of hype from her local paper. She has excellent bloodlines, as her mother, Mary Jantzi Dugan, competed in the finals of the 1985 Bee.
Which speller likely has the most trouble spelling his or her name?
This is easy.
Shouts to Storrie for having the best four-part name in sports since BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Who has the most swag in this year’s Bee?
Get a load of 6-year-old Akash Vukoti, the youngest competitor in the field. He has supposedly been competing in spelling bees since he was 2.
Please — please — let this dude make a cameo on Season 2 of Billions.
Which speller has the most dubious claim in his or her bio?
Seventh-grader Vipanchi Mungara avows that she “uses every minute of her spare time catching up on her various favorite book series, creating pencil sketches and paintings, and spending time with her family.” Umm, every minute? Does this mean she doesn’t eat or drink or sleep? Are we really to believe that she doesn’t indulge in the occasional Netflix binge?
Well, given that she is “an Indian classical dancer and singer, a red belt in taekwondo, a triathlete, and a two-time innovative project winner in Lego robotics” as well as “an aspiring linguist who is learning Mandarin, Latin, Kannada, and Sanskrit” … maybe. Way to make me feel inadequate, Vipanchi.
Which speller has the coolest nickname?
Wisconsin native Martius Isaac Bautista is hereby dubbed “Marty Bats,” in honor of Blue Jays slugger (and fellow fearless competitor) José Bautista. Here’s hoping Marty celebrates correctly spelled words with an imaginary bat flip.
Which speller has the most questionable preparation method?
Martha’s Vineyard resident Sam Fetters admits to using Wikipedia as a study tool in his bio, which is akin to an NBA player copping to practicing DeAndre Jordan’s technique at the free throw line. Doesn’t Sam know anyone can edit a Wikipedia page? I hate to say it, but maybe it’s time for him to consider a coaching change.
What does Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker have to do with this year’s Bee?
Somewhat hilariously, Tucker is listed as the favorite athlete of Maryland native Saketh Sundar, who admires the kicker’s “accuracy and determination.” This marks the first time a 10-year-old has ever deified a placekicker. And though I respect the choice, Tucker wasn’t that accurate; he ranked 21st among NFL kickers in field goal percentage (82.5 percent) in 2015. For Saketh’s sake, let’s hope he is more accurate onstage than Tucker is on the gridiron.
This piece originally appeared on the Ringer Facebook page on May 25, 2016.