Fainting, Confusion, Screams: The 9 Best Spelling Bee Stumpers (VIDEO)

Can this year’s final top the terror of ‘negus’? Watch nine memorable moments in spelling bee history.


Possibly the most memorable spelling bee moment in the history of the competition, this clip features a soon-to-be champion who leaves her poker face at the door. Overcome with excitement, Rebecca Sealfon screams out the letters to the final word given to win the 1997 Scripps National Spelling Bee.


Twelve-year-old Andrew Lay, an eighth grader from Stanley Middle School, wasn’t prepared to spell this word during the Scripps 2009 National Spelling Bee. His expression, around 1:10, as the announcer states “negus” for the 104th time into the microphone, is a mixture of confusion, straining for calm, and pure terror. But he succeeds, conquering the word and his mixed emotions.


Eighth grader Sameer Mishra seems at first frustrated when the 2008 announcer appears to have called him a “numb nut.” But “numnah” has a very different definition. After being given its meaning—a felt or sheepskin pad placed between a horse’s back and a saddle to prevent chafing—the word no longer stumped the young victor.


The poor announcer. Having been asked to repeat the question a total of 17 times, with noticeable frustration in her tone and a hopeful “help me!” glace to the panel, the speller finally has an epiphany (real or fake is up for interpretation) and spells the word correctly. Herring?


There are funny words in the English language, and the audience at this spelling bee cracks up upon hearing the word that means “a mechanically contrived thought structure and stereotyped or unrealistic characterization in drama.” But after using several lifelines (can I have the language of origin? Can you use it in a sentence?), the giggly contestant emerges victorious.


For this crowd, a spelling bee is no matter to be joked about. After receiving the word “Chinook,” this pop-culture savvy teen quotes a line from Napoleon Dynamite—“Do the chickens have large talons?” No one gets it, and he’s left with a silent audience and still a word to spell. He aces it, of course, and the commentator asks, “Was that a secret message?”

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Thinking she might get away with pulling a fast one on the judges, this 2005 spelling bee contestant asks one question too many about the word she’s asked to spell.


This championship speller gets a little too smart with the anchor interviewing him on his big win. “What did your mom say when you won?” she asks. “Well…I don’t know what my mom said. You better ask my mom if you want the answer to that question.” The anchor laughs it off, but says, “You’re making it tough for me today, Evan!”


We feel so sorry for this championship speller, who had a minor panic attack and fainted when he was at the microphone. But just like a champ, he got right back up—not even asking for the announcer to repeat the word—and spelled “alopecoid” correctly without a second thought. As one YouTube commentator wrote, “Brain overload—shutting down—restarting—loading—owning. Like a boss.”