The 2019 National Spelling Bee ended in an eight-person tie. Given the changes this year, a common title is unlikely. Alex Wong / Getty Images hide subtitles
Alex Wong / Getty Images
Alex Wong / Getty Images
The Scripps National Spelling Bee is set to return this June with a new format designed to boost the competition and crown a true champion.
In addition to other pandemic-inspired modifications, the spell checkers now face questions about vocabulary and, if necessary, a tiebreaker round.
Between the usual verbal spelling rounds, “Word Meaning”, the new vocabulary part, asks the spell checker to answer a multiple-choice question in the second round of each competition level up to the final.
The “magic” is also new: For the final on July 8th, officials can now trigger a lightning round to rule out the possibility of a tie.
If there is still no winner in the last round, all standing spell checkers are given 90 seconds to spell out as many words as possible from a prepared list. Whoever spells most of the words correctly wins the title.
J. Michael Durnil, who joined Biene in March as managing director, is overseeing the changes in the 96-year competition.
“The Bee’s competition format this year – inspired by proactive safety measures in the wake of the pandemic – has allowed us to introduce new elements of the competition that align with our regular program review to ensure that the competition continues to mature in a way that will resonate with the most successful Spell checkers are adequately challenged in the country, “Durnil said in a press release. “When activated, the spell promises to be a gripping moment for both the wizards on stage during the finale and the audience at the edge of their seats at home.”
This new feature will almost certainly prevent reruns from past bees where the reigning spell checkers had to share their glory. In 2019, eight record-breaking participants were named co-champions after 20 spelling rounds. All three bees from 2014 to 2016 also ended in a draw.
Durnil told the Associated Press that the goal of the changes is to find a champion. “I think the spell checkers are not participating in our competition and I think they have to share the ultimate spelling master’s award with others,” he said. “From a competitive standpoint, we owe it to the spell checkers to identify the champion of the spelling bee.”
Last year’s bee was canceled for the first time since World War II due to the coronavirus.
The live broadcast in 2021 will practically start on June 12th. The July 8th personal final will be moved to a new stage this year, an ESPN complex at Disney World Resort in Orlando.