What It Was Like to Be the Least Qualified Contestant in the National Spelling Bee in 1998
- •While other kids were celebrating qualifying by winning their regional bees, I was crying because I won in a long, Amish jumper my mom insisted I wear so no one could see up my skirt onstage. We both figured no one would know, but I ended up on the front page of the local paper.
- •When another kid asked me at hotel check-in what page of the dictionary I was on, I laughed. Then started to sense I was missing something.
- •I spent the allotted "study time" writing postcards to everyone I knew. The lobby of the grand Hyatt had a floating piano player. Was I supposed to sit on that news for ten days?
- •There were screens that flashed facts about you as you spelled onstage, and on the questionnaire I filled out for them a few weeks earlier, my mom crossed out where I had filled in "Neve Campbell" for my hero and wrote "Susan B. Anthony."
- •I heard my parents laughing when I stalled by asking "what's the etymology?"
- •I got out in the second round on the word "chauvinism." The in utero younger siblings of today's contestants would eat me for lunch.
- •They don't have it now, but in my day there was a "crying room" you were escorted to immediately after the ding. It was stocked with the softest cookies and plushest chairs you ever saw, and I loved it. Fifteen minutes in, I was gently asked to leave, and so I did, after packing cookies for all my people (12 family members tagged along.)
- •A feisty Jamaican girl with a team of track suited trainers won and made a fierce speech about the world underestimating her country at the awards dinner. A few weeks later she was stripped of her title when an investigation revealed that the government had pulled the spellers out of school a year earlier to study full time.
- •By then I was back home and spending the summer showing my friends a VHS of the cutest boy at the Bee. We rewound the part where he smiled and said, "is that Greek?" 50 million times.