On Tuesday, nearly 300 kids from around the country began the treacherous preliminaries for the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Last year's competition was the most tweeted-about show on TV that week — even outperforming Game of Thrones and The Bachelorette, according to the event's website — and this year's is sure to be just as enthralling. There's just something so entertaining about watching children spell words you've never even heard of. If you need a refresher on how crazy talented the contestants are every year, all you have to do is look at the winning words in the 2015 national spelling bee. Chances are you've never even heard of them.
For the second time in a row, the 2015 bee crowned two winners — 13-year-old Vanya Shivashankar and 14-year-old Gokul Venkatachalam — after there were no words left to spell. Shivashankar secured her victory with the word "scherenschnitte" and Venkatachalam with "nunatak." In case you're unfamiliar with those words (let's face it, most of us are), scherenschnitte is the art of cutting paper into decorative designs, and nunatak is a hill or mountain surrounded by glacial ice. Both obscure words would obviously be very difficult to spell on the spot, especially in front of a huge crowd on national TV, but the teen rock star spellers handled it like pros.
The winning words in 2014 (when there was also a tie) were just as challenging, with Ansun Sujoe and Sriram Hathwar winning by successfully spelling "feuilleton" and "stichomythia," respectively. In the very first national spelling bee in 1925, the final word was "gladiolus," which seems slightly easier, but still not an everyday word that most people would know how to properly spell. It will be hard to top those mysterious words, but the 2016 Bee will certainly try.
Participating students this year range from six to 15 years old, with a nearly equal amount of boys and girls. Apparently, spelling is a family affair, and 29 spellers have family members who have competed in previous years.
This year's competitors took a preliminary test Tuesday morning, and will go head-to-head in two further rounds of preliminaries Wednesday. The finals will take place Thursday morning and continue that night, with a winner (or winners) named after a final word is spelled correctly. Both Wednesday and Thursday's events will be broadcast live on ESPN, and you can tune into the finale Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.