The Scripps National Spelling Bee is back this year, celebrating nearly a century of testing children’s knowledge of bizarre and obscure words, pulled from the furthest reaches of the vocabularic universe.
The annual tradition has long been a bright spot in competitive entertainment, broadcasting live from Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, as superstar grade-school spellers dazzle full-grown adults with their superior understanding of Latin roots and literary references. In this year’s run, contestants have been pitched recherché lexis such as arenicolous—an adjective for living, burrowing, or growing in sand—and pettifoggery, which refers to the business of “quibbling over trifles.”
The 2020 contest was scuttled due to the COVID-19 pandemic—the first year the event has skipped since World War II—but it went ahead with virtual rounds and semifinals this June. The finals, occurring tonight at 8 p.m. EST, will pit 11 challengers against each other for the chance to win the Scripps Cup, thousands of dollars in cash prizes courtesy of bee-partner Merriam Webster, and—fittingly—a set of historic Encyclopædia Britannica replicas.
Here’s how to watch:
If you have cable
- Tune in to ESPN2 or ESPNU—you can switch on your television, or stream via ESPN.com or the ESPN app.
- The broadcast starts at 8 p.m. eastern and will end around 10 p.m. eastern, or whenever a victor is declared. (2019’s finals were a marathon that ended in an eight-way tie, but this year’s “lightning round spell-off” rules hope to prevent that.)