SPELLING BEE RECAP: Your New Reality TV Fix Is Tiny Children And Big Words

What? You thought just because your favourite cooking-based reality tear-fest was done for the year that you could relax into a peaceful, scripted-TV wonderland? PHOOEY! BAH! PISHPOSH! There’s still a whole month-and-a-bit left of cold weather left to fill! That kind of fanciful, summer-based TV programming is still miles off. And modern television’s thirst for schedule-filling reality goodness is still as high as ever.

Sure, you could simply watch that other cooking show that just started. Or you could head on over to that one about the guy with the jaw juggling seventeen will they/won’t they’s all at once.
But what’s the point of any of that when you can learn some stuff, watch children fail (which every single one of you enjoys to some small degree, don’t even think about trying to tell me otherwise), AND cop your fixin’ of generic, dramatic music all at the same time!
Here! Take my hand! Come with me on this glorious adventure to be called THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN SPELLING BEE.
It’s gonna be fun, I promise.

We enter tonight’s episode – already a week into the competition – with an establishing shot of what’s either a Masonic Lodge or a *really* good 3D rendering of the Stonecutters Temple. Who makes Grant Denyer a star? These kids do.
The whole thing is filmed in front of a studio audience – because the stage lights, cameras, and production music being piped in don’t ramp up the pressure on these literal children quite enough.
Denyer has to address the now-Top 24 whilst standing on a stage riser, which is goddamned hilarious. There’s scarcely any shots of him standing directly next to any of the kids at any time during the show – most of them would tower over him. I’m not saying that he’s not a tall guy or anything. I’m just saying that I once saw him posted up at an Irish pub in Hobart and his feet didn’t reach the footrests on his barstool.
We’re doing things in groups tonight, which in 99% of academic-based endeavours is a task doomed to fail due to one weak link. But somehow I doubt any of these kids are going to miss any deadlines because they ripped too many bongs and watched the Point Break DVD menu on loop for 6 hours the night before.
Chrissie Swan has the easiest gig in the world on this show. She gets to introduce the task and then sod off to the green room to sip wine from the rider and needle nervous parents all night. It is a dream gig. “Oh! THAT’S a tough word. I don’t think they would’ve heard THAT word before, ayyy Mum and Dad?” *swigs rosé*.
With IMMUNITY up for grabs tonight we’re splitting into 4 different teams for a 3 Round battle.
Team Green absolutely motors through the first round of spelling – each team member taking it in turns to spell a letter of a word – mostly because they’re all on the same page. And also mostly because tiny 8 year-old Grace D is a sassy, logical QUEEN.
Green sets the bar with a total of 10 words nailed in the time allotted, with Red and Yellow teams sneaking into Round 2 with 8 each, leaving Team Blue – headed up by Tej, who is kind of the inverse of the children-in-a-trenchcoat trick, as he’s clearly a pair of world-weary 45 year old men stuffed inside the clothes of a small child – to place last, and be knocked out of the Immunity Battle at the first hurdle.
On team Red, Ben has established himself as something of an alpha dog, walking up to the biggest word in the yard on his first day and knocking it the fuck out. Meanwhile on team Yellow, an actual Spelling Bee made out of paper has been constructed for good luck.
Round 2 is introduced, and a TEN METRE PIZZA is hauled into the room, automatically cementing this show’s place as the greatest televisual feat in Australian entertainment history.
This is the kind of thing monuments are erected for. It is the everlasting, the eternal. The beating lifeforce of the soul. LOOK AT IT.
If you ever wondered what happens to the leftover food in the MasterChef pantry when production wraps, now you know.
This food themed round is simple – a representative from each team fronts up, one picks a letter that’s been baked into a giant slice of the pizza, and then a word is shown on the board. The first one to buzz in and guess what it is has a shot at spelling it.
Grace D gets to pick her letter first, and she grabs an F made from olives. Denyer asks her why she chose that, and her response is a steely “It was the first letter I saw.”
Meanwhile, Ben almost trips over himself when he buzzes in early before realising that a six-letter Spanish word starting with Q is more than likely not going to be “Quesadilla.” But just before the buzzer of doom sends him packing he manages to pull the correct word “Quinoa” out of thin air, letting him nail the spelling and absolutely convincing me that he has not once stepped foot outside of Zone 1 in all his 13 years on this planet thus far.
Thanks to a hastily slapped together tie-breaker procedure, it’s Team Red and Team Yellow going through to battle for Immunity, leaving Team Green to trudge off backstage like the little pack of monsters they are – except Grace D, who is an angel and we’re thrilled she’s here.
Which leads us to the FINAL ROUND – a straight-up, traditional, 6 vs 6 elimination spelling bee. True Survivor Series rules. You spell in turns until all 6 on one side have fallen – the last remaining are the sole survivors, and are safe from tomorrow’s elimination axe.
And it’s a HELL of a battle, too – punctuated by an ever-growing urge to go full Billy Madison on every kid who pronounces it “haitch.”
Good god there is a lot of them, too. Rebellion is alive and well, friends. Even in the grand world of Spelling Bees.
And it’s in this challenge that Ben’s earlier cockiness comes back to haunt him, falling victim to “Magnanimous” – which judging by the seething looks he shoots at the Yellow team’s hero in Harpith, was a feeling he is not quite yet familiar with.
So Harpith and his rag-tag bunch of youngsters in Team Yellow win Immunity and save themselves from the wrath of Denyer tomorrow.
As for the Red team, they too have to face the music of a green room full of parents smiling through gritted teeth – honestly, half the fun of this series will be seeing which parents are genuinely proud of their kid’s efforts, and which ones are Academic Stage Parents we never knew we needed on Australian TV whose rage and disappointment is barely hidden behind a forced smiling face stretched so tightly that a light paper cut would rip it open like a bursting water balloon.
AND BEFORE WE WRAP THINGS UP HERE. Can we talk about the Pronouncer for a minute?
Why he’s even called the PRONOUNCER and not the Adjudicator is utterly beyond me, for starters. All my man does is sit there with sheets of paper – all of which probably have each word carefully spelled out, with phonetic pronunciations written down for him, so he’s hardly doing anything beyond reading. And yet he still tries to assert what small skerrick of authority he has by insisting that “centrifugal” can also be pronounced “sen-trif-oo-gl.” BULLSHIT.
And whilst I get that he’s supposed to look like he’s an old-world educator from a prestigious, mahogany-soaked private institution somewhere, he still looks like they plucked him from the line for Horace Slughorn auditions. Why not get an actual lexicographer? Letters & Numbers isn’t in production anymore. David Astle is doing *literally nothing* right now. Hell, you’re Channel Ten! Throw some of that new-found Packer money at Susie Dent, fer crying out loud.
Ugh. This show, you guys. It’s gonna be a time.
NEXT TIME: With 6 safe from elimination, the remaining 18 duke it out to see who will survive, and what will be left of them! What challenges await? WHO KNOWS! Maybe it’s another words contest! Maybe they’ll put ’em in a tug-o-war! Maybe a trap door will open and 18 children will fall into a pit full of hives containing ACTUAL BEES.
It’s a new show! The possibilities are endless!