Handicapping the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee

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Since 2006, I have been telling you who is going to win the National Spelling Bee. Since that time, I have had the champion in my list all six times.

So who will I pick this year? To the disappointment of some, it won’t be Lori Anne Madison, the youngest competitor ever at six years old. First-time competitors can’t win this, and I just can’t see this fairytale being written. With that said, if you’re in a Spelling Bee pool, you can bank on it that the winner will be among these five.

1. Nicholas Rushlow, No. 193

He was in my top five last year, and I like the fact that he is one of two five-time repeaters in the Bee. His 33rd place in 2010 was a total fluke; take that out and you have a 17th-place finish in 2009 and a 14th-place finish in 2011. Extra points for the fact that he spent his summer break memorizing every word in the Webster’s Third Edition dictionary (his favorite word is reportedly bhutatathata). He can also spell the longest word in the dictionary, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolacnoconiosis forwards and backwards.

2. Arvind Mahankali, No. 162

While this is only Mahankali’s third time, he has impressed me with his third- and ninth-place finish. To put it bluntly, he knows the pressure hot lights and of being on TV in primetime. Some might think Arvind is at a disadvantage because he goes to a public school, but only one home-schooler has won in the last 10 years (Evan O’Dorney), after home-schooled kids won three of five from 1997-2001.

3. Grace Remmer, No. 40

I watched Remmer last year and was impressed by her composure. I’m a bit concerned that she lists one of her hobbies as knitting at the age of 13, but I’m not going to hold that against her. She finished 9th in 2010 and 14th last year, and I don’t see any reason she can’t win this thing. She does wear braces, an ornament of four of the last 10 winners.

4. Samuel George Estep, No. 268

Sam has the most unique bio line among all 278 spellers: “Samuel likes to spend time outside with his siblings, exploring the family’s property together and sitting in trees with the chickens in their laps.” Interesting. I always need to throw a contender with glasses in my top five so Estep is it, even though only four of the last 10 winners have worn glasses.

5. Nabeel Rahman, No. 155

I don’t know what it is, but between Mahankali and Rahman, I just feel like it’s the year for a speller from New York. That hasn’t happened since Rebecca Sealfon famously screamed out E-U-O-N-Y-M for the win in 1997. While Rahman was stumped by “dockmacky” last year, he came in an impressive ninth place. That means he got two rounds in with the pressure of being on ESPN. Among all the factors, I weigh experience and final rounds on primetime TV more than others. That’s why Rahman sneaks into my top five.

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