Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Monday, April 27, 2015

Archive of Recent Writing

(Note: Are you seeing weird, translucent pictures in this layout that don't connect to the post?  Me too.  I can't figure them out.  Please advise if you know much about Blogger formatting)



I had three things in common with Claudene Christian.  We were at USC at the same time, when she was a campus-famous Song Girl.  She was raised in Anchorage, Alaska and, when I was eventually stationed there, many of the friends I made had been her friends in high school.  And, knowing something about ocean rescues from helicopters, I felt connected to the Coast Guard crews who went to save her crew from the sinking Bounty during Hurricane Sandy, bringing home 14 but only recovering Christian's body. In the months after Bounty, I could not stop wondering how a woman with such a background could possibly have ended up on a leaky wooden boat in a hurricane 100 miles off the coast of North Carolina.
   My first major magazine feature and return to writing after Pararescue.

Four small stories for Esquire's Year End
"Toughest of 2015"

Proud of this one. As a Delta Force soldier, MSGT Josh Wheeler lived in secret, but his final pictures in his uniform tell his story if you know how to listen.

The Hero: Florent Groberg, Medal of Honor

Naturalized American citizen in 12th grade, Medal of Honor recipient. Interview transcript with insanely down to earth and cool dude.

The Groundbreakers: Shaye Haver and Kristen Greist

Sometimes, you get the assignment and you are so psyched because the subject is great. And then sometimes nobody calls you back. Not bad for a write-around.

Very happy to be writing and developing stories for the WaPo's Checkpoint Blog.  My first:

How the First Women Ranger Grads Are Inspiring Women At West Point 

The genesis of the story above was a feature I wrote on the Army Lacrosse team for Lacrosse Magazine.  Covers some of the same territory, more specific to the sport:
The Warrior Ethos 

(more after jump)

Friday, April 24, 2015

"Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye" - More hidden Mad Men

Daydream believers.
Few elements of Mad Men receive more regular scrutiny than the choice of final music that the show's creative team puts over the final credits of each episode.  Each selection is assumed to hold a deep message about a character, the episode just concluded or the series itself.
   How, then, did everyone miss this one?
   "The Quality of Mercy" (the MASH ep) closes with a trippy, psychedelic anthem called the "Porpoise Song" by the Monkees. The song fits the late-60s setting of Mad Men's 6th season and the slight unreality that has crept into the series in recent seasons.  Some commentators have also noted the "pre-fab" nature of the Monkees, and how their essential falseness might reflect Don Draper.
   But none of that is why the producers picked it.
   "Porpoise Song" is from one of the Monkees' movies, "Head," where it plays in the opening sequence.
   Quick: think about Mad Men's iconic opening sequence.  Got it?
   Here's "Porpoise Song" in the opening of "Head."
   See anything familiar?

(click through - video restricted to YouTube)

Sunday, April 05, 2015

"You Should Read My Diary" - Secret Meanings and a Lost M*A*S*H Episode Hidden In A Famous Mad Men Scene

Sally at boarding school. Can you spot the hidden M*A*S*H Episode?

[UPDATE:] Esquire's entertainment's Mad Men blog picked up this essay, edited to about half this length.

[UPDATE 2] Since being posted a year ago, most of the linked videos here appear have been knocked out by copyright claims.  Not sure if the various scenes are available elsewhere.

Today is Easter, and also the season premier for Mad Men's 7th and final season. As I watched a few minutes of the Mad Men Marathon today that always precedes the Season Premier, I stumbled onto the great episode where Sally goes to boarding school, meets the The Mean Girls and then gets high with Glen.. And as I watched, I caught an echo of what I thought was a hidden reference to one of TV's all-time great shows (also set during the late 60s), MASH.
   Then, as my mind tuned in more fully, I saw another one. Then another.
   Then I was rewinding, googling dialogue and MASH plots and wondering what I was seeing, until finally, after sifting through the whole episode, I found what felt like a key: a throw-away line that mentions a very distinctive name.
   It sent me to an episode of MASH I hadn't ever seen, but now, having seen it, I think it's a spiritual companion piece to much of Mad Men's themes, offering a perfect through-line to most of what Mad Men has become.

And I don't think anyone else has made the connection.  This is a fun one.  Enjoy.

(most images below from here)

Mad Men's "The Quality of Mercy" was late in Season 6. The scene you'll remember is the one where Sally interviews for boarding school . Here's the entire 'scene', which is four seperate sequences. I've recapped it all below, but worth watching (you can start at 1:45 and stop at 8:10, skipping the car rides, to get all the key parts). *UPDATE: video may be broken*

As part of her ‘try-out’ for school, Sally stays over in the dorms for a night, hosted by two Mean Girls who, they quickly inform her, expect Sally to get them booze and cigarettes.  Sally goes one better, and calls Glen, her old childhood friend and maybe-crush. He arrives a little later by climbing in through the girls’ window. He brings with him booze and a new, more-handsome friend, Rolo, who brings weed. One of the girls, Mandy, pours everyone a drink.  Raising his cup, Glen makes the girls giggle with a silly bottom’s-up toast only a 15yo could mistake for sophisticated: “Here’s looking up your old address.”
   Later, one of the Mean Girls disappears, leaving the group as two couples. Mandy quickly invites Glen to make out, dropping the come-hither lineL

 “You should read my diary.”

With that, she wordlessly leads Glen away to "read her diary," leaving Sally alone with Rolo, who immediately makes a move. This scares the crap out of Sally. She calls Glen back, and Glen fights Rolo (which makes Sally smile slyly). The boys leave, and – a scene later, on her drive home – we hear that Sally got a thumbs up from the Mean Girls and is now accepted to the school.
  That’s what you saw.
  But just below the surface is a trail of MASH references that lead to one very specific Alan Alda monologue that is almost a blueprint for Mad Men's later themes.  Here’s how I found it, from the big clues to the finest print:
Mean Girl Mandy and Glen.
Not pictured: her diary

  It starts with some obvious wardrobe. When Glen climbs through the window, he’s wearing a vintage OD Green Army jacket, covered in hippie-style buttons and Glen wears it unbuttoned.
It’s a broad hint about the MASH-driven counterculture but not a bullseye: it could just as possibly suggest dozens of other 60s counter-culture icons, as much Private Joker as Hawkeye Pierce.
   Not a slam dunk, as Easter Eggs go.

   Glen’s toast, on the other hand, is closer to a giveaway. “Here’s looking up your old address” is a funny line, perfectly weighted to match both the scene and the teenagers in it.  But its also obviously not something Glen made up.
  So where did it come from?
  Well, per Google, the line appears to be from Col. Henry Blake in MASH Season 3, from 1974, on an episode called "Private Charles Lamb" (a lamb is set to be roasted for Greek Easter, but Radar saves it, replacing it with a huge hunk of spam – ‘a spam lamb’). Which is to say: Glen, stuck in the 60s, couldn’t have heard it on TV directly. So now we know his words are sending us somewhere. Is it a hint that, though Glen fancies himself a wise-cracking Lothario like Hawkeye, in fact, he’s a dim but good hearted guy like Henry?  Sounds right, but a jacket and a laugh line – which could have come from Jack Benny, for all we know – is not enough.
Just seeing this picture,
you hear his voice, right?
   But we don’t have to look much farther for proof. A few minutes later, back in NYC, Don Draper is at home watching TV. We don’t see the screen, but the audio is unmistakable: dialogue from Dragnet (era appropriate!) and two of the most iconic, easily identifiable voices in American TV history, Sgts. Joe Friday and Bill Gannon.  Friday is Alan Webb – “just the facts, ma’am” - while Gannon, of course, is Harry Morgan - who went on to command the 4077th as Col. Sherman Potter.
Sally and Rolo, in happier times.
  So now we know: there’s a MASH tribute buried in this episode.  There's no going back now.
  So what are we missing?
  Well, at first I wondered about the rapist friend, Rolo. Rolo? In one line from the make-out scene, Rolo explains his name to Sally as a mix between his parents – “Roland and Lorraine” – which, thanks to Google, I discovered neatly echoes a joke at the heart of MASH: how BJ got his name. Hawkeye spends one entire episode trying to figure out what “BJ” stands for. In the end, BJ says his parents picked it because they were Bea and Jerry.
  Same as Rolo.
  (Glen cuts in: "Also, he rolls a lot of joints!").
   And then there’s The Snoopy Thing: Glen arrives when he climbs in through the Mean Girls’ window. How did he find it? He tells Sally he “looked for Snoopy.” And indeed, propped in the window sill like a Paul Revere lantern but for teen weed, is a Snoopy doll. The Mean Girls, apparently, put Snoopy up in the window so the boys could find them.

Glen (L) and Snoopy.

  And what could possibly connect Snoopy to MASH?
 Oh, right! This is 1967-68, right? The guy who played Radar – Gary Burghoff – was playing Charlie Brown on Broadway at the time! He's famous for that, right?
  And Radar’s full name was Radar O’Reilly… which, if you squint… could maybe be abbreviated/compressed to:
  R. O… L.-o.
  But Snoopy is definitely on purpose and definitely leads us to Radar, even if "Rolo is Radar" is a bit of a stretch. Nothing else about this Rolo kid – weed provider, Sally attacker - says Radar.  Well, actually Rolo drove Glen to the school, and as they are leaving, the last thing Rolo says onscreen is “I’m your ride home.” Didn't Radar always drive Col. Potter? 

(and a Rolo sidenote: Glen comes in through the window. Then one of the girls goes downstairs and brings Rolo up stairs. If there's a reason why Glen has to climb in but Rolo can just walk up, I missed it.)

  Is that it?  Have we solved it?  It’s Easter, so have we collected all our eggs?
  Let’s take one more sweep, make sure we’re not missing anything:

  • Glen dresses kinda like Hawkeye, uses a Henry Blake toast.
  • Col. Potter, eg Harry Morgan, actually "appears" (via voice) in another part of the episode.
  • Snoopy doll/driver/Radar/Rolo
  • Rolo/BJ

We're on the path, but something feels empty. There's an outline here, but its not filled in. What is this episode really trying to tell us?
   Where else can we look?

Our Mean Girls… are they MASH's Nurses?  Is randy Mandy supposed to be Hot Lips?  Hot Lips’ real name is Margaret, which doesn’t give you Mandy, but isn’t that far off, so… hmmm.

That leaves the other Mean Girl, whose name we know from an earlier scene, when Sally interviews with the Admissions woman. She ends the interview by summoning Sally’s “host," the Mean Girl, yelling out the door to her secretary: “Please call Millicent Turner from study hall.”

And with that, the Seventh Seal opens and All Is Revealed.

Oh. I get it now.

Mad Men's "The Quality of Mercy" is a tribute to the MASH episode "Who Knew?", which is episode 3 in Season 11 (the last). That episode's plot follows the accidental death of a nurse who Hawkeye recently slept with but who we, the audience, never meet.  She is dead when the episode opens. It is not as sad as the episode where Col. Blake dies on his way home (“I’m your ride home”), but it belongs on the list of MASH's other most affecting episodes.  And, probably more than any other MASH episode, it telegraphs the overall themes that Mad Men has spent most the last decade exploring.

The name Millicent Turner – our other Mean Girl - connects us to Lt. "Millie" Carpenter, a 4077th nurse who - like so many before her - spent at least one night of passion with Hawkeye Pierce. If she doesn’t ring a bell as a "beloved MASH character”, its because, unlike Hawkeye, you never met her. There was no Lt. Millie Carpenter because by the time we arrive to meet her, she’s already dead.

"Who Knew?" begins with Hawkeye waking up BJ in the middle of the night to tell him the tale of his just-completed tryst with Lt. Carpenter.  It was apparently, even by Hawkeye standards, so great that he just goes on and on about it to BJ, who just wants to sleep.  Millie Turner, it seems, for at least for one lonely night in Korea, rocked Hawkeye’s world.

  The next morning at breakfast, as Hawkeye still glows, Col. Burns announces to the entire camp: Lt. Millie Carpenter is dead.  Apparently, she went for a late walk the previous night and stepped on a mine.

A Memorial will be held and someone will have to give a eulogy.  Potter asks for volunteers.  Everyone from camp is present, but no hands go up. No one, it seems, knew Lt. Carpenter - Mille - well enough to talk about her. Father Mulcahy says he will handle it.

Back in their tent, Hawkeye tells BJ that he wants to do the eulogy. He would have quickly forgotten about Millie if she had routinely been transferred out.  But now, with her death, he feels deeply connected to her.

He asks around. Hot Lips knows almost nothing about her (“She was a good nurse”). None of the nurses knew her well either, or even liked her much. She had received a big box of fudge from home, but only shared one piece with each of them.  She was "unfriendly."

Hawkeye returns to Father Mulcahy for help. Finally. the “Padre” hands Hawkeye one last object from Millie Carpenter's effects, something that Mulcahy doesn’t want to hold on to.

What does Mulcahy give Hawkeye to help him understand who Millie Carpenter was?

What was Mandy’s big Come-Get-Me line for Glen?

“You should read my diary.”

"You should read my diary"

With Lt. Carpenter's diary, Hawkeye begins to solve the mystery of who Millie Carpenter was. He discovers that she kept the fudge “to herself” so she could share it with her wounded patients. No one saw her do that because she worked the night shift, lonely hours she volunteered for so the other nurses, whom she quietly idolized, could sleep. Back home, she was head thoracic nurse at a major hospital – the Big Leagues – but came to the 4077th to treat war wounds.

  And, reading on, Hawkeye discovers that, after their night together, Millie found herself head over heels for Hawkeye, yet afraid to tell him of her feelings. He reads the passage to BJ (this text and, apparently, some formatting I can't shake, is from here):
'There's just too much Hawkeye running through my mind. I think I'll take a walk.' End of diary.

She took a walk to clear her mind of her feelings for Hawkeye and stepped on the mine.

Hawkeye gives the euology, wearing his OD green blouse unbuttoned, like Glen. It’s a 4 minute, nearly unbroken shot of Alda, and all the themes of Mad Men are there: the loneliness, the yearnings, the struggles to connect and the distances between us. He finishes:

“See, I'm a lot like Millie. I'm not shy. I- I- I cover up my feelings with jokes and I don't tell the people l- I care about the most the most important thing that I can tell them that l that I do care. It's too late for Millie to change. That's- That's sad, but- but maybe, maybe we can take a page from her diary.”

Hawkeye finishes by going around the room and naming each of the central characters as people he loves in his life.

That's the scene - surely one of MASH's most effective - that the Mad Men writers wanted us to find.

There are a few other cute connections - Millicent wears a purple velvet dress, like Hawkeye's robe; in "Who Knew?"'s B-plot, Klinger pours Winchester booze in a paper cup - which is what Glen does when he pours drinks for the girls and makes his goofy MASH-related toast.

But I think we've nailed down.

Sally and Millicent Turner, slightly out of
focus and, eventually, not there at all.
But wait? One thing doesn't quite work, right? In Mad Men, it wasn't Millicent's diary. It was Mandy's. Hence Mandy's invitation to Glen to read it.

But that's the point. Even though all the action takes place in Millicent's room, she has disappeared from the scene by the time the moves get made.

By that time, like Lt. Millie Carpenter, she's not there at all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Jude and Tatum got a BB-8, so we unboxed it. came out pretty good!

Monday, September 08, 2014

That one time a USC administrator REALLY yelled at a ref.

USC President John Hubbard, in tie, puts his arm around the shoulder of Homer the Rabbit as USC coach John Robinson looks at 1978 USC-at-Hawaii football game (photo from www.adventureswithahistorian.com)

 [UPDATE October 2015: If you have arrived here in the aftermath of Steve Sarkisian's alcohol issues -related firing, then please note two points of clarification:
Steve Sarkisian's battle with alcohol is not funny at all. 
This mostly-unrelated story is.
What they have in common is USC football and, almost certainly, booze. Though possibly not even that. Judge for yourself]
[Original post]
USC Athletic Director Pat Haden just got fined $25,000 for talking to a referee on the sideline of the Stanford football game.  I find it impossible that anyone, regardless of rooting interest (other than maybe Haden), could be anything other than wildly amused by this.
However, I'd like to offer some perspective.
When I was covering SC's football team for the student paper in 1993, I heard a rumor about an incident in the even-then distant past.
  A school official on a road trip. A fight with a referee. A flag that nearly cost the team a national title.
When I first heard this story in the early '90s, John Robinson was USC's head coach. As it happened, his 90s run as coach was his second go-around at the school after winning national titles in the 70s. The rumor dated to his first tenure, and involved then-USC President John Hubbard. By the 90s, Hubbard had retired to a tiny office in the middle of campus to leisurely teach history.
   So one afternoon, I stood in the hallway outside his office for 5 minutes psyching myself up to knock on his door and ask him about a rumor that I was sure had to be false.
It was true.
(and by all means, soak in the hopelessly earnest Jim Murray impression)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Spent a week at Arctic Man.  Wrote about it for SBNation.   Have a look.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that I like my new neighborhood.  In fact I’ve probably mentioned it enough to make you hate it in abstention,  which I apologize for and to make it up to you, I’d be happy to have you as an honored guest in our home in my awesome neighborhood.


We have a killer pool – seriously, its just ridiculous – but, now that I’ve been here 2 years, I have to admit I’d trade 30% of the pool to be 30% closer to civilization.  We’re a long way out there, commute-wise.


But the main thing that my neighborhood excels at – the thing I really hoped it would do and that, wonderfully, it does - is getting people together.  The entire place is engineered to force you to be friends with your neighbors. There are no straight streets or culdesacs, and everyone has comicly small plots of land (1/8th of an acre is typical). Instead everything loops together and the streets swoop around in natural curves to forms angular coves of homes which surround tons of impromptu green spaces.  You live pretty much on top of your neighbors, so you have to get along. Kids don’t play in their own yards – and, in so doing, avoid the yards of others or exclude some from their own - but instead are drawn out, together, to the common spaces. It is a neighborhood designed to make you go outside and be part of something.


Most people who move here get that – in fact, like me, it’s the main reason people move here in the first place – and we all rush outside at the first day over 60 degrees to stand around and complain about our jobs, our kids and all the troubles these days with each other.  Again, with each other.


Probably the person who I’ve seen embrace and personify this spirit the most is the mother of one of the little girls in the neighborhood who is Jude’s age.  The girl’s name is Julie (not really, but you get it) and her mom is Rachel (same thing). They live directly across the street from the central playground and we met them long before we moved in.  On no pre-text whatsoever except enthusiasm for making strangers into friends, Rachel invited me over to their townhouse one day and it was a fantastic, joyous mess, toys and coloring books and dress up clothes covering pianos and lego tables, the walls covered with badly askew framed pictures of Julie and her older sister.  What few adult-looking stacks of books and papers I saw had retreated, backs together like doomed Spartans, to the kitchen table. I don’t know how the girl’s dad fit into the picture, but the girls lived with Rachel fulltime, and its probably important to note that she lived in a townhouse; the neighborhood basicly broke ground at the front end of the downturn, so for several years they built townhouses and cheaper homes to stay afloat, which means the first wave of people who moved in did so with less money in the bank than those of us who came later but with a worldview that held a whole hell of a lot more optimism and sunshine than was common back then. It’s likely Rachel wouldn’t be able to afford anything now being built here (nor, as it happens, would I), or even to buy her own townhouse, which is an absolute shitty shame. There’s definitely a more guarded edge to the last wave of move-ins and I hate it.


  Jude and Julie are in first-grade and Girls Scout together, play together occasionally (it would be more, but really, for both girls, there’s just too many kids whose houses are closer to their own) and consider each other friends.


So that’s Rachel.  Now, a massive veer sideways.


Last night I stayed very late at the office to try to knock out a piece of work that has nothing whatsoever to do with my job but quite a bit to do with what makes me happy these days.  I’m working on two different stories for publication – paid publication! – and need, badly, to get one done.  So I stayed at the office until late and it sucked.  They say writing has 5 stages: This is going to be awesome, this is going to be harder than I thought, this is just horrible, this is OK, Thank God I’m done.  Last night I fought through horrible into OK.  Almost done.


As the night wore on, I kept checking twitter, because of course I did, and sometime as ‘this is Horrible’ was finally giving way to ‘OK’, that shit in Oklahoma happened.  Basicly, America’s government tortured an American to death.  Deliberately, mercilessly and with a full moral understanding and medical acceptance of what was being doing.  As red flags go – just medical and technical red flags now, nothing involving “opinion” – it was friggin’ Red Square on Fatherland Defense Day.  Close to an hour after an American doctor was ordered to use his skills and knowledge to kill another American, the man finally – mercifully? No? – died of a heart attack, so I guess now we know how long it takes you to die of a heart attack when you know that you are, absolutely, being tortured and the torture is never going to stop.

  Through drugs or fear or whatever, something led to something and his heart just stopped.


So I went home, rolling over my struggling story in my mind but also haunted by what the American government had just done to an American.  At one point – and this is when it hit me just what horror we’d committed – there was a statement released by the “victim’s family” so I clicked on it, and was for several seconds confused by what I found because it was the pre-execution thoughts of the family of the original  victim, a teenager that the dead man had murdered. So by inflicting this barbarism on this girl’s killer, the American government had managed to completely erase my awareness of her. Of course she is the victim.  Of course she is the one – the only one – whose death we should be mourning and remembering.  But thanks to the ghouls that allowed last night to happen – the list is long, and in the end we’re all on it - she’s now, at most, another victim.


(also, just in the confines of Oklahoma, there’s a bunch of dead people and lots more hurt people who didn’t kill anybody but did get run over by a tornado and now are sleeping in cars and we should probably concentrate on them, but now we have to ignore them for a while and hash out – yet again – why we are looking up at Saudi Arabia as a justice system.  So, again: great job, Governor)


So I got home, and sat down – exhausted by the writing, depressed by the news – and my wife told me that Rachel had died.


Apparently she caught a cold or the flu, something led to something and her heart just stopped.


There’s no way she was older than me.  There’s no way that I’m kinder to strangers or friends alike than she was. I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt and say we adored our kids the same amount.  What I’m saying is I get why some people thought it was OK to torture a guy to death in Oklahoma but a bad cold killed a single mom with two little girls yesterday and there’s no reason why it wasn’t me.  We even annoyed our friends the same way by bragging about the same neighborhood.


This morning, the internet is, of course, all over Oklahoma.  Her name, someone notes, was Stephanie Neiman. The original victim. Certainly worth remembering.  Elsewhere, between the shock and the bluster, someone else retweeted this randomness which is evidently Langston Hughes:


Lord in heaven,

Crown on His head,

Says don't be 'fraid

Cause you ain't dead.


Sounds about right.


Holy Shit, y’all. Its later than you think.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013



Lemme tell ya something - that kid is one of the premier competitors of the modern world.  You can say that's ridiculous for a Spelling Bee - for anything where the age limit is 14 - but I've watched him for three years. In the 2011 and 2012 Finals, he turned the night sky to day with a pair of insane, glorious flameouts.  He fought with the judges, he played to the crowd, he threw mind-games at his competition.
He got third-place, twice, and nobody was more obviously surprised both times than the two kids he left standing on the stage as he walked away. He was by far the best competitor in the Bee, just not, as it happened, the best spller.

Tonight, he came back with a new level of skill where his immaturity had been.  And he danced to the title.  Never wavered, never in doubt, never touched third gear. The moment was waiting for him, and he didn't lift a finger to chase it.  He let it come to him.

So total was his command of the stage that he spent much of the night actively pulling and willing his competitors to run with him, to make him earn it.  None could, of course.  He schemed and plotted with those around him in their seats and when the field had dropped around him to just 3, he did something unthinkable: he told the other two kids - tiny, near-infants, for Goodness sake - to stand up and he pulled them into a huddle for a pep talk, the quarterback challenging his team, never mind there was only room for one on the podium.
  Was it a psych out move?  Maybe, but it didn't need to be.  When he did finally win - effortlessly, inevitably - he instantly shed the tension of competition and slipped into an air of gratitude.  His first comment - and normally here, the kids who win are unable to speak, let alone show grace - was to insist that, against the evidence of our own eyes, the words had been hard.
 But he didn't stop there.  Then he chose to say that he had not known the night's hardest word, one that had earlier taken out a fellow, but inferior, 4-time qualifier.  He was saying - at a moment when he could have said anything - that she could have won instead of him.  After dominating all night, he was saying he was lucky.

What now?  Next year's Bee looks pre-ordained, an open path for Vanya from Kansas, who will be back for her fourth year, matching her sister, who won the 2009 Bee.  Vanya is a delight - poised, happy, passionate, about 70 lbs of smile.  It will be fun to watch her win, or to somehow lose.  But Arvind will be gone.  Before our eyes he evolved from raging prodigy to perfect champion.  And now he's not ours anymore.

The 2012 Bee

Thursday, May 30, 2013

2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee - live blog.

(collection of live-written emails, lightly edited but full of skips and mistakes, of the 2012 Bee)
Cold blooded

Welcome to the best ESPN broadcast of the year, every year, the Spelling Bee.  And you are looking LIIIVE at, uh, some glass-walled resort "minutes south of Washington DC" in Maryland, or as I bet they tell skeptical venue bookers, 'no, I swear, that doesn't mean Northern Virginia."

Camera pans over the finalists and- Holy Cow, that kid is huge!  There's a kid - I think from Colorado - who looks like Judah Freelander snuck into this.

Here comes Snigdha from San Diego.  Name means “smooth as honey.”  She gets "Samond..." (SPELLING DISCLAIMER: I'm typing these fast, so they are totally phonetic and very certainly WRONG.  That will continue throughout and, no, I won’t go back and correct them because MS Word won’t know them, either).  Snigdha asks three questions, then four, Mom in the audience in full Indian Sari.  Nice touch. It was “PSAMMON” - WOW!  I missed the silent P, so my perfect night didn't last ONE LETTER! We're already shattering records.

Here's the big kid - he's a solid 5-10.  Frank Cahill, from Parker Colorado...  He's going with a shirt with lapels for no obvious reason.  Great opportunity to mention what a terrible idea it was to ditch the standardized polo shirts, especially now in the post Hunger Games-world where watching like-dressed kids battle it out is OK for some reason. Frank gets his word and sits down and he's easily twice the size of Snigdha.

Now they throw to the announcers for the official intro, and I like them so far.  ESPN really learned from the 2010 travesty.  The color guy - the ‘Best in Show’ Fred Willard role - is a former finalist whose sister works for the bee.  He's been at it for 7 years and is a steady hand.  With him is a respectful, playful woman co-host, Sage Steele.  I like them both.  ESPN used to routinely play the Bee with a patronizing “aren’t they so cute” approach.  Erin Andrews, if memory serves, was particularly atrocious at it.   But they seemed to have dried that up since 2010.  It was never clear if ESPN just completely blew it or if the field cut itself down too quickly, but essentially the whole show was host banter, inane backstage interviews, hacky video shorts and endless commericals, to the point where you could hear the audience boo when they cut away.  But ’11 was much better.

A Steele.
Now they throw it to the on-the-floor reporter, Samantha... Steele?
  Sage is black, while Samantha is an Erin Andrews-proxy blonde, so they ain't related.  I guess that's just a coincidence.
 And it takes this Steele about 15 seconds to patronizingly ruin all the goodwill the hosts built.
In her bounciest pledge-captain voice, Samantha runs through a few of the notable kids: there's Gifton, who is from Jamaica and as of this evening the last 1st-time finalist still standing.  Apparently no 1st timer has won since 2000 (I thought that was the year Champy broke through?).   Behind him, though, is Mad Man Arvind.  Arvind finished 10th 2 years ago, and was the outright star of the 2011 Bee in a chaotic run to third place.  He mechanically rolled through his words, had the entire field terrified and spent most of the night picking fights with the judges until a fluky German word got him just before the final round.
  He's back.  Even has the same red shirt.  The other kids look intimidated.  They should be.  He’s already got the 'when do the words get hard?' smirk locked on.
  And finally, the Blonde Steele gives us a 2 minute lesson in derision and mocking with Nick, who is back for his 5th finals, the maximum.  He's only finished as high as 14th.  His yellow shirt is the same one as last year ("I recognize it!" lies Steele), only it isn't:  apparently his mom bought two sizes of the same one when he was in 5th grade.
   Spelling Champs prepare to BE prepared.

Back to spelling.

Stuti Mishra, from Melbourne, FL.  Lots of Florida this year.  She gets Sahel, arabic - She asks the usual series of questions: what language is it from?  Can you use it in a sentence? Any alternate pronunciations? In fact, it has three pronounciations.   I used to think that if a kid asked more than 1 or 2 of questions, it meant they were stalling or desperate and either way were probably going to miss it.  But they all do it now.  Now its the spelling world’s version of a pre-batters box routine. 

  Advice from the guy in the booth, "don't make it harder than it is."
  She doesn't.  Knocks it down and onto the next one.


So up comes Gifton.  So far he’s been mechanical and reserved, possibly a little in shock. But let's assume its nerves and Jamaicain manners.  Just in his "hello" you hear the Jamaicain accent and perfect manners - "thank you, sir," – the calling card of the Jamaicans in the Bee.

And let’s discuss an obvious reality: Gifton is black (though, I suppose, not ‘African-American’).  There is often, though not always, one or two black kids in the finals, but sometimes none.  We could discuss the many possible reasons that black kids might not get this far, but instead let’s think about how great it would be if a black kid one.  It would not make him particularly famous or make any sweeping change we could instantly measure, but it might be something on the order of, say, Myron Rolle interviewing for a Rhodes Scholarship (which he won) then playing safety the same night against Maryland on a national broadcast.  Because of that night, Rolle’s story probably resonates – and possibly makes a difference – with a lot more people than if that night hadn’t happened.

  So let’s root for this quiet, perfectly mannered kid named Gifton from Jamaica.

So he gets Haringenform, which means something that looks like a herring.  Its a brutal word, the color guy says. Not only is it, well, ridiculous, but its not even spelled like herring.  Complete trap word.  Pretty much a worst case for your first-ever Finals Word.

And you can tell, as you can always tell, that Gifton doesn't know it.

He starts asking questions: language of origin, in a sentence, etc.  He's looking around and you can feel the desperation.  He repeats the questions, repeats the word, over and over.

40 seconds on the clock. 35.  30.  Now he has to spell - no more questions allowed after 30 seconds.

He says it again, “Haringenform. “ He looks like he might cry. 


Through what looks like physical pain, he starts spitting letters: H.  A.  R. 15 seconds.  here's the first trick... I N G .. nailed it, now the crux! 10 seconds! - E N - 5 SECONDS! - F. ORM-BUZZER!  AAAH!!  GASPS FILL THE ROOM!

Did he get it in time?!
Did he get it right?!
Is this shy, impossibly polite kid from Jamaica, in a building surrounded by people who look nothing like him, going to be the first one out on a trick fish word?


WILD APPLAUSE!  SHRIEKING!  MAYHEM!  THe other kids leap to their feet to welcome him back to his seat.

That was agony.  We're four words in and we just replayed the Man City final.  This can't go on.

Now comes Jordan, who is 14 and in her 4th trip here.  She is simply delightful, a 4-foot walking smile.  She has 65 snowglobes at home. As she gets her word, they cut to her dad, who has his head in his hands.  Wonder if its because she's the first-ever finalist from New Hampshire, or if its because she knows she doesn't know her word, which she plainly does not.  She fights her way through some tricky multi-vowels, but the dreaded Ding is waiting her.  With a gracious smile she walks off, obviously delighted to have been this far.

That was like the anti-Gifton moment.  We all needed that.

Now comes another girl with a pronounced air of confidence, which, if you’ve ever met a 14 yo, can be grating.  She gets Ridotto, and says, "let me guess, it's Italian?" which is correct but incredibly showy and presumptous.  But it looks like she’s in trouble.  Struggling, she vamps a bit – it’s a musical term, which has to sting because she plays piano and trumpet.  When the Ding comes, she gives us lots of hand motion and, after the reveal - they spell it back to her - she takes a deep breath, throws her hands in the air in the universal, 'Oh well" sign and yells out to the audience, "thank you very much!"  That ended nicely.
As we go to commercial, Arvind is next.  Prepare.


Arvin's intro clip - they cut to his school in Bayside NY, which I guess is, ya know, in The City (twitter erupts with intrigue: he is listed as Bayside this year but last year was Garden Grove (or Garden City or something) – is something fishy going on? (almost for sure no, and moreover, I don’t care)

Whaaaat?  So in his little video, Arvind opens with - how gangster is this? - declaring that his favorite word (all of the kids have to declare a favorite in their video) is Jugenstiel- the word he got knocked out on last year!  Arvind FEEDS on that moment. He LIVES on that moment.  Arvind is still IN that moment.
Here's his finishing tagline:  "When I win the National Spelling Bee, I will scream so loud that a Volcano will erupt somewhere on Earth."

Drop the mic, Arvind.

Now he's up there.  Its been a year coming, but its game time.  He walks up and grabs the mic with one hand, light and twitchy, like he's in a gunfight.  He runs through the questions when he get MAIEUTIC.

Gotta be honest.  He didn't look like he had that.  But that's one down.  Onto the next one.

And up comes Nic, the 5-timer, from Pickerington, Ohio.  He gets a german word - "he loves German words" - and he's through.

Armand and Nic are seated together, along with Lena Greenberg, who is up now.  She's from Philly, 14, home schooled and maybe a touch flighty and a bit untethered.  You never know with the home school  kids.  She could go out now in tears right here or grind on into the final rounds until Arvind finally gets tired of holding her up.  She gets her word... "Utostian"...her reaction: "Whaaat?"  And this is why the Spelling Bee is so great: For a solid minute, Lena looks SO lost, adrift, seeming to bounce from question to pained facial expression to nervous giggle with no plan, and then she just kinda says, "does it come from the greek word ‘oste’ meaning bone?" 

 WHAT?  How do they do that?  Its like she just aikido-throws the word over itself and break its back in one move.  She asks another question, draws a breath and spits it out, rolling through the letters without a pause.

Here comes the "great moments of the past" montage - the two staples are the kid from 2008 who got something like "Numniu" and thought it was "Numb nuts" and said so 3 times, and of course, the Euonym girl... UPSET!, no euonym girl, no numbnuts!.  Good for them, striking those from the collective memory.  They kept in the kid who fainted.  Good to keep your sense of place.

And here's the Special Talent MONTAGE!

they are: soccer skills - naming 50 states in order (I could do that in Kindergarten - still can) - a girl named Kate Miller can hulu hoop - one kid licks his elbow - the juggler - and for the SECOND STRAIGHT YEAR a kid who puts (this time) her feet behind her head!

Here come Snigdha again...  she gets a Spanish word, which is basicly throwing underhand to a kid from San Diego.

Big Frank with his lapels.  Porwigle.  A tadpole.  Frank Sr and Jill are watching.  porwigle...  he puts in an extra g, and that's it for Frank.  He was never going to be a winner - too nice, too big, too mid-America.  But nice effort.

Here comes Stuti - now its Snigdha and Stuti next to each other.  Both are tall, willowy Indian girls.  Stuti looks a little happier to be here, while Snigdha has that driven Honors Kid air.  But they clearly are the first sign of a power block that might challenge Arvind.  Melopoeia - at least the second word with 4 vowels in a row.

Here comes GIfton - don't do it to us again, Gifton.  Just get this, hit and sit down.  he gets his definition and answers with more "thank you, sir"s.  Phthisiology... pronounced Fisilogy or Tisilogy...  I mean, it’s a joke.  How can you get that?  It can be sounded out two different ways!  Gifton launches in with the p-h- and he's so slow, so halting, you think each letter is about to be wrong.  But he nails it.  That was only like a 7 on the Exhale-meter.  The Bee is settling into a groove.

A cute skit with the announcer and the 14yo at a coffee shop.  That was funny but do 14 yos drink coffee now?  Is that what the kids are doing these days?

So up comes Arvind....  "Dishtolfink"....a Pennsylvania design motif of a bird.  its distelfink...  Apparently the fact that it was Pennsylvania-Dutch word was a trick, that could have led him down the wrong path on the F inthe middle... but not Arvind.  He spits it out like it was his phone number. Not today.  You come at the king, you best not miss.

Up comes Nik the 5th-timer... he gets rouille - peppery garlic, french word.  He asks for everything.  Then he asked for the letters.  Gets his courtesy laugh.  Then he takes a stab... and, when he gets it, gives us our first "I had NO IDEA!" celebration of the day.  THose are the best.

Here comes the panicy Philly Home Schooler.  She get YTTRIFEROUS.  WOW.  THere's mom, head in her knees, obviously her standard watching position...  Wow, she's terrified of this one.  Its Swedish.  Its based on an obscure element.  Trembling she launches into it - Y T - (deep breath, Oh SHIT FACE!) T - R IFEROUS - Complete leap of faith on the second T.  She jumps all the way back to her seat in shock at still being in it.

Up comes Snigdha and she knocks out a 12-letter pile-up like its the street she lives on.  She has no weak spots so far.

Stuti...  Confident, poised, big smile.  OH!!!!  What a move!  We've had a couple hand-scribblers so far, but Stuti turns from the mic as she's thinking and air-types!  That's a Bee first.  Wow.  Confident, cute, inventing new memory tricks.  If she wins, she’ll be a breakout star.  If she wins.  I just don't think she's got the straight-up spelling chops to run down Snigdha.

Here's a video short of Jamaican kids, starting with Gifton, focusing on his "Thank you sir" manners, and his coach, the Rev. Glen Archer.  Apparently, the Rev. Glen is like the Bela Karoliya of spelling in Jamaica.  And Gifton remains a delight.  I'd be stunned if he's around in 2 rounds, but so happy he's here.

And now he’s up - "air-as-it-tickleous' – which is something like ‘ericeticolous...’ he's trying to pronounce it but doesn't look as troubled.  He's asking the questions, trying to settle into a rhythm, I think.  Or maybe not.  We just broke through 30 seconds, and he doesn't seem to have it.  Here we go again.

15 seconds.  ero-NO!!!!!  As he walks off, he drags his hand over the front row of previous losers in a chain of low-fives, and the whole place gives him the coveted standing ovation.

And almost as if to say, 'so much for the pretenders,' up comes Arvind....  Quattrcento...

Good place to stop for tonight.  Rest in the morning.


 Annnd we're back!


 Our last rookies and pretenders - Jamaican-me-crazy Gifton and the girl from  Philly - have left us and up comes Arvind to the mic,  holding a bow with a flaming arrow because he's about to light a  Wildfire-soaked Potomac on fire.  It's Showtime.


 We’re down to a Final Four that has fekt inevitable for a while: Arvin the Destroyer, 5-time -qualifier Nick Rushlow from Ohio and the powerblock of Indian Girlhood, Snigdha and Stuti.

   Handicapping them:


 -          Arvind - he's gone to bed every night for three years thinking about this moment.  By this point in last year's Bee, he had picked  two fights with the judges (winning both) and was locked in a Private

 Ryan knife fight with Canadian Laura Newcombe that went five more rounds into the night.  In big moments, Arvind answers the bell.  So far tonight, he's barely out of first gear, and I wonder if that's not

 a disadvantage.  He needs to hit homerun and this may be a year for slap hitters.  From here on, there's either insane 20-letter names of extinct bacteria, which Arvind feasts on, or honey-trap easy ones with silents "J"s.  No inbetween.


 -          Nick Rushlow.  5X finalist, but like the 5-timer who went out earlier today in a prelim, you have to wonder if there's a reason he's never made the top 10 in 4 tries.  He's the 'featured' kid on the

 broadcast, which never ends well.  I've watched probably 6 of these, and when the narrative says its Your Year, its never your year.  You lose right about, well, now. He’s grinning, going for cheap laughs at the podium, showing up in the cameos, all of which is always fatal.  Spelling bee winners usually come from nowhere because they’re locked in, not so much ignoring the antics as unaware of them.  It’s the defining thing that makes it such a great event: when the final kid wins, as often as not, they have no idea what to do.



-          Which brings us to Stuti and Snigdha.  The Operators.  Jason Statham would play them in the movie.  Snigdha literally hasn't so much as blinked yet.  She knows these words like you know Kelly Clarkson lyrics. She's got The Look - mentally locked in, not even aware of the size of the moment.  That's the magic combo.  Stuti, I think, would be a little lost on her own, but I think she's drafting on Snigdha, looking for an opening, staying alive.  She's looked a bit nervous on a couple words, but never in real doubt.  She's confident, tall,  flattering earrings, tremendous smile, the crowd favorite and seems to be enjoying herself more than the others, so she’s definitely a long shot behind Snigdha and Arvind, but her path to the trophy is actually the same one that worked last year:  if she gets stuck and has to guess, she's least likely to lock up, while the favorites – feeling each other on their backs - may implode in front of her.  That’s exactly what happened to Arvind and the Canadian girl last year.

Likely endgames? If one of the girls goes out before Arvind, I  think Arvind will finish the other one off.  After last year, he's not losing a one on one fight.  But if the girls can hang together, there's a good chance Arvind will run himself off the rails again.  Then it will be Snigdha trying to shake Stuti, and we'll see who blinks (did I just completely discount Nick From Ohio?  Sure did.  He's not winning, and that's that).


 Back to it.  Up comes Arvind and we’ll see what kind of tone he sets….








Holy cow.  I don’t believe what I just saw. 


If Arvind had gone to the back of the stage, kicked down the rear wall and revealed 200 chorus girls and an 80 piece orchestra, it wouldn't have been as breathtaking  as what he just did.  I don't know if he's going to win this - at this point, I can't see them allowing it - but tonight we are all Witness to Arvind.


 Here's what just happened, with just enough background to fully take it in:  going back to last year, Arvind has a history with the woman judge.  Not the nice-guy word-pronouncer, Dr. Bailey, whom all the kids love, but the woman who works as his No. 2 beside him, who can get snippy.  I’m sure she’s a great person who loves the kids but on gameday she has three jobs, and none of them involve good news for the spellers: she prompts them when they are late on the clock, corrects them when they mispronounce something and, worst of all, she's in charge of the bell - Ding! - so if she’s in your life for any reason, you’re probably in a nosedive.

   At last year’s bee, she stopped Arvind at least three times to make him repeat a word over and over – as slow and insultingly as possible - until he got some unreasonably perfect "ah" or "err" or "oo" sound into the end of some impossible word.  And unlike the other kids, who are terrified of her, Arvind fought back. At one point, as she made him repeat an obscure long ‘O’ over and over, he dropped his voice down two octaves and did a Big Bopper-style “oooohhhhh”, openly mocking her.

  It was testy, and as Arvind fought Newcombe in the final round, it might have knocked him off focus.

   So back to what just happened:  Arvind came up and got Quatrocello (or something).  He was saying it as "Quatrrojello" or "Quadrotello" or whatever, saying it wrong.  But you could tell he knew the word (and since it looked like one I would have a shot to guess my way through, I assume it was an easy one).   It also kinda felt like he wasn’t taking the pronunciations seriously, following each crack at it with a smirk.  This clearly irritated the judge and at some point she seemed to decide she was going to show him up.  There's no other explanation.

  So Dr. Bailey kept repeating the word, over and over, Arvind would say it a little off and she'd jump on him, "No, no Arvind, listen."  She even told him, like a two year old, "Watch Dr. Bailey's lips at the end,” TWICE.

  And Arvind simmered.

  First couple repeats: amusing.  Next couple: awkward.  But as she got angrier and snippier, and Dr. Bailey got more and more nervous, Arvind seemed to start to enjoy himself.

  “Quadrotello. Quadrojello. Quad-dra-tell-ooo”

   At some point, he obviously knew the word and was baiting her.

   Finally he says, "Quatrocello" – correctly - and Dr. Bailey says ‘that sounds right’ and the woman shuts up and everyone kinda takes a breath.  Now we can get on with it.

  Then in an attempt to defuse the moment, Doc Bailey says: "is there anything else I can answer for you?" and the audience nervously laughs.

 But then Arvind smiles.

  The audience gasps. Air rushes out of the room. Everyone knows what’s coming.  No one can stop it.


For half a beat, Arvind holds the moment up, savoring it.




 "Are there any alternate pronunciations?"




 If he'd climbed down from the stage and slapped her, the audience would have been less stunned.  They're all aghast.  As am I.  Amid the ensuing chaos, I assume he spelled it because he was back in his seat before anyone woke up. The audience was applauding, I guess out of sheer disbelief.  Even Snigdha looked rattled.  Wow.


 I gotta shake that one off.  The conclusion later.


And now things are moving quickly.  With everyone still digging out from Arvind’s detonation, what chance does Nick have as he comes up?  He gazes around at the wreckage in the room, terrified, and misses his word. Deflated but looking as much relieved as beaten, he lingers as long as he reasonably can at the podium.  He gives a little salute to the crowd, collects his standing O and is off.

And with that, we’re on to the CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND!  From here, there are 25 Championship words - if two or three kids are still standing at the end of them, we have co-champs.  It seems like that should be a real threat, but it hasn’t happened for 50 years, and in the Bees I’ve watched, its never gone more than 10 words or so.  I think it’s as much a question of the pace as the difficulty. From here on out, by the time you get back to your seat, you only have the time it takes the other kids – or kid – to spell their word to recover, and I imagine that you’re too hyper-focused on your opponent’s turn to even relax.

The bee also has a particularly wicked version of sudden-death, making you win by two.  First, you have to ‘win’ a round, spelling your word correctly while your opponent (or opponents) misses. Then you have to hit another, all-the-marbles word to win.  If you miss the winner, your opponent is back in.

 So, depending on the order, you may have to spell two words in a row, with no break, to win it.  CRAZY pressure.

 FYI, I’ve never seen a kid blow a game-winner.

They pull back to show the stage – Snigdha and Stuti stand together, with Arvin a few feet off - he's 5 inches shorter than them, but they seem to be trying to hide behind each other. And for the history book: with three left, its official – somebody of Southwest Asian heritage (probably Indian but I hate to assume) wins again.  That’s 5 in a row, and 10 of the last 14.

Up comes Snigdha...  Even with Arvind seizing the stage with the ‘pronunciation’ moment, she’s showing no signs of backing down.   They flip to the crowd to show her family, and – uh oh – this bears keeping an eye on.  Mom is in a full sari dress, but its little brother we need to watch.  He is literally starring directly into the camera with a giant grin.  And bouncing in his seat.  Now a wave.  He’s a threat for a double-fishhook/tongue-out funny face.

   Back on stage, Snigdha is a blank screen.  Giving nothing away.  Pure mechanic.  If you’re going to take down Arvind, this how you do it.  Don’t get drawn in, stay in your lane.  Boom, she nails her word and sits.  She’s almost bored.

Well, here comes Stuti, who for all her charms, will need some help.  She knocks one out, no problem.

Arvind comes up, schwannoma....  he runs through his questions... It’s a German word, like Jugensteil last year.  He’s going slow here.  He looks trapped.

  The clock is onscreen now, 45 seconds, 40… We’re under 30…

  Can this happen again?

 S C H E O –

  Arvind is OUT!  ANOTHER German word!!!!!!  No volcano!!!  3rd place 2X in a row!!!

I can't believe it.

I can believe he lost, but not on a German word, in the first Championship round.

   And yet, it doesn’t feel wrong.  We’d seen everything we could from Arvind.  He’s a peerless warrior, just not, it turns out, the best speller in the room.  The ride was over.  Tebow dominated the NFL last year, and Arvind dominated this night, and we don’t feel cheated that neither sniffed the big prize.

Now its Snigdha and Stuti.  Its Snigdha's to lose, which absolutely doesn’t mean she won’t.

Here are twitter's top 10 trending topics:

 *   #SorryICantDateYou<
 *   Stuti<
 *   #spellingbee<
 *   RIP Facebook<
 *   #AskChachi<
 *   Arvind<
 *   Jeff Hardy<
 *   Kendrick Perkins<
 *   Tim Duncan<

Spelling Bee, and the NBA, but #SorryICantDateYou is no 1?

Up comes Stuti, as if on a trapdoor that just swallowed Arvind: Chionablepsia – she is a bit less assertive, but her game shines through.  She knocks it down.  This is ridiculous.

Snigdha gets Arrondissement - double-double letters!  Dr. Bailey presents it with no less than FIVE pronounciations.  Honestly, that seems a little unfair because on the 4th pronunciation, which pronounced the “ss” as “sh”, her eyes flared, so obviously something about that gave it away.  The announcer even said, “she’s got it now.”  That’s rubbing up against a fix.  I think I’m outraged!

  Meanwhile, the camera cuts back to little brother who CANNOT STOP grinning at the camera.  I don’t understand where he’s hiding the can of Jolt.

  And with all the drama of New Orleans getting the first pick last week, she knocks down the word.  No nerves.  Nothing.  Assassin.  I don’t think somebody in the crowd with a laserpointer could distract her at this point.

Here comes Stuti, and she takes her word and starts doing her air-typing.  A year from now when every single speller in this is airtyping, we’ll talk about Stuti the way we talk about Dick Fosbury.  And she is so ridiculously at ease.  Not really focused or dialed in like Snigdha, but just enjoying the moment and utterly poised.  I can’t imagine a Student Body President Race she could not win.

  But this ain’t a popularity contest, sweetie.  The Bee, like Ball, don’t lie.

Schwarmerei - German.  Similiar to the Arvind-Slayer word.  She starts in… DING!  THrew an extra E in there!

We’re in the Endgame! (as for the win by two, Stuti was the second speller, so Snigdha wins that round and now only has to hit one to win it all).

Here’s your Portrait of A Killer: They had a camera on Snigdha during Stuti’s turn.  She was listening with her head down, but as soon as she heard the Ding, she snapped up in what you’d pretty much have to call a snarl.  Her entire body basicly said: “Finally.”

And up comes Snigdha, the crowd already applauding, not for the moment, but for the end we can already see.  The truth is that the Bee is always like this on the last word: the night is exhausted, wrung all the way dry of its last bit of drama, as the lone survivor drags themselves the last few feet to break the sagging tape.

   Even the wind has fled.


G u e t a p e n s....  BALLGAME.

And she stands there.

Annnddd....  she stands there...

Anndd... She.  Is.  Still.  Standing.  There.

10 seconds go by, she’s grinning – is she expecting another word on the 2-to-win rule?  Are the judges confused?  The crowd’s applause gets louder as the realization rolls through the room that its over, but nobody is moving to congrat-.


 Nothing says “Its Over” like a confetti gun!

And HERE COMES LITTLE BROTHER, FULL SPEED ONTO THE STAGE HE MAY JUST KNOCK HER DOWN STANFORD-TENNIS STYLE!!!  Snigdha absorbs the hit, and jumps with him.  Snigdha has been planning for that last word for a year, but little bro has been planning for this celebration even longer.

 Behind Snigdha, Stuti is clapping through the confetti.  She looks like she lost but also like she knows the right speller won.

Up come the families...  Out comes the trophy, and – WHAT!?!?!? –STEELE TRIES TO GIVE IT TO STUTI!!!!!  She didn’t know who won!!! Stuti did a little finger-twirl point as if to say, “no, it’s her!”  WOW!  It could NOT be more clear what just happened: Steele was playing with her phone for the last 2 hours, ran out on the stage when the producer yelled in her earpiece and just started congratulating whoever looked prettiest.  She must have been on twitter because that could not have been more patronizing if she’d held up a hand-drawn sign that said #SorryICan’tDateYou.


In grand bee tradition, Snigdha can’t lift the trophy by herself, but here comes little brother – he won’t be held back - grabbing it from her to hold it over his own head.  So awesome.

From the weird part of Maryland that we swear isn’t Alexandria, good night and God Bless!