The opening rounds of the 87th Scripps National Spelling Bee were a breeze for most of the whiz-kid competitors Wednesday — allowing for several lighthearted moments ahead of the nerve-wracking finals.
Lillian Allingham of Hockessin, Delaware, asked for a sentence for “odyssey,” and pronouncer Jacques Bailly gave an example of someone who “got lost in Costco for 35 minutes.”
For “coloratura,” Bailly spoke of someone getting their hand stuck in a George Foreman grill.
And for "hyperbole," the sentence was decidedly playful: “To say that life will never be the same after kindergarten graduation is hyperbole.”
Keshav Ramesh of South Windsor, Connecticut, was disappointed when his sentence for “debacle” was dry and routine.
“Can you use the word in a funny sentence please?” Keshav said.
“Not always funny,” Bailly replied.
Some 281 spellers have gathered in Oxon Hill, Maryland, in the word-for-word showdown. The students, ranging from ages 8 to 15, were champions in their regional competitions.
Each speller had a chance to earn points by spelling up to two words onstage during Wednesday's preliminaries. The scores will be combined with a computerized spelling and vocabulary test taken Tuesday to determine who advances to the semifinals Thursday.
ESPN will broadcast the final rounds live at 8 p.m. ET Thursday. The winner gets more than $33,000 in cash and prizes — and the glory of being the best of the nation’s “word nerds.”
Among the favorites is Sriram Hathwar, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Corning, New York, who placed third last year and is back for his fifth and final time. Another top contender is 12-year-old Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, who tied for fifth last year and whose sister, Kavya, won in 2009.
— Erik Ortiz
The Associated Press contributed to this report.