Handicapping the semi-finalists

This is sick. Out of the 41 semifinalists left standing today, 15 of the are Indian Americans. The Kenyans have running. The Cubans, baseball. The Chinese, ping-pong. Indian Americans own spelling.

It was a moment to savor. Of the record 293 participants at 82nd Scripps National Spelling Bee, only 41 moved on to the nationally televised semifinals that start Thursday morning (10 a.m. ET, ESPN)…

Expected to be in that final group are several returning favorites. Fourteen-year-old Keiko Bridwell of Duncan, S.C., back for the fourth time after tying for 17th last year, had no problem with “swivel” and “mahout” (one who keeps or drives elephants) in her oral rounds and breezed into the semifinals.

Is it easier now because she’s a veteran?

“More pressure,” Keiko said. “Everybody wants me to do better.”… [Link]

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p>When ESPN calls you the Spelling Bee favorite it is just like putting an NFL player on the cover of a Madden game. You are probably cursed. Therefore, based on my own intensive scouting I offer up the following thoughts for those people who have bookies in Vegas and want to bet on these young horses. Word of advice: always bet on brown.

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p>The first one I want you to keep an eye on is Vaibhav S. Vavilala from Indiana. Double V as he is known on the circuit is a 4 time competitor. Experience helps, but it can also prove to be a mental block because you can better visualize past failure.

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p>

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The next contestant I want you to watch for is Kavya “The Destroyer” Shivashankar. Like Double V above she is a four time veteran. According to her profile the thirteen year old looks forward to becoming a neurosurgeon. The Kavyas we know stop at nothing when the smell of success is in the air.

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My next pick is thirteen year old semifinalist Aishwarya Eshwar Pastapur. She cites aviator Amelia Earhart as her role model so she has a good head on her shoulders. I see her going far this year.

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My final pick is a dark horse long shot. He is a 9 year old speller who reminds me of a petulant 18-year-old Boris Becker. His name is Sriram Hathwar:

Sriram has studied piano for five years and enjoys learning to play new hymns and prayer songs. He likes to swim, ice-skate, ski, and play basketball. In his spare time Sriram may be found reading books in the Harry Potter series or watching Tiger Woods on the putting green. Sriram participated in the 2008 national finals, when he was the youngest contestant in the history of the event. [Link]

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Game on. Will you all be watching tomorrow night?

97 thoughts on “Handicapping the semi-finalists

  1. * Dancing With the Stars is over. Was that Shawn Johnson interview really necessary? If we needed to see an Olympic sweetheart, I would have preferred an ice skater, for the inevitable “how do you spell triple salchow?” jokes if nothing else. * It’s a question every viewer of the Bee asks every year, and I still don’t know the answer. A misspelled word is obvious to TV viewers at home, and it’s gotta be just as obvious to the judges. Why can’t they ding the heck out of their little bells as soon as the ugly mistakes are completed. Why insert that massive, horrifying pause, during which every viewer already knows the awful truth, with the contestants forced to wait a mini-eternity for their dreams to be punctured by ringing? “Ding!” shouted out the bubbly Neetu Chandak, eliminating herself as soon as she finished “derriengue.” Those immediate dings should be a lesson for the organizers. * I was pleased to learn that the winner would receive Encyclopedia products. I’ve heard the young generation is really into large, bound reference books, there being few other options for quickly answering research-type questions nowadays. * Why should sports fans love this event? It lurches toward the best of March Madness as few other events can. There are favorites, who are most often there at the end, like Shivashankar tonight. But there are upsets, too: last year’s runner-up, Sidharth Chand, was felled in Round 8, ahead of several lesser-known contestants. There’s the kind of diversity that can draw in the entire country; the final seven hailed from both coasts and the country’s innards, were male and female, white and black. There are faces you’ve seen countless times–Kavya’s little sister has gotten as much exposure as Tyler Hansbrough–mixed with unknowns who bubble up unannounced, like Ruiter this year, carrying a touch of George Mason in from Fairfax. And most of all, it’s sudden death in a way few things are. Best-of-seven series are great, but it’s hard to get too worked up over the first quarter of the first game of one of those NBA fortnights. But if you stepped away for just a second tonight, you could have missed Chand get KO’s by apodyterium. That’s drama. That’s why we watch. Well, that and betting pools.

    Kavya Shivashankar Wins, D.C. Waits

  2. This would not have happened if that home-school-white-kid had won
    The interview thing is troubling the more I think about it – that many brown kids and no follow up time during or after with them. Worse than Seacrest with the Slumdog kids at the Oscars. I honestly wonder if some of the Spelling Bee execs or ABC execs will honestly have meetings or discussions on how to get more non-brown kids into the next one.

    Very important points. I’m surprised ABC even allowed brown kids onto the program. I think they should be picketed for their sickening discriminatory practices.

    You know what really upset me? I was Instant Messaging someone about this, and she defended ABC. WTF??? She said that the reason ABC did that was because the broadcast ran way over time. She also alleged that last year’s winner was also a desi and they did interview him on the show. I called her a racist and blocked her forever.

  3. And not even an interview with Kavya, so they can air a Gray’s Anatomy rerun? I never thought I would hate TV. The kids were fine, but once again, adults messed it up.

    Couldn’t agree with you more. I was really disappointed that they didn’t interview her. My favorite part of any sports final is the celebration (especially if I was rooting for the winner).

  4. Are they being racist or are they just concerned about their bottom line? Maybe nerdy desi kids are really not that interesting for american audiences. I’ve noticed that Shawn Johnson gets much more air time than the other girl who won the olympic gold medal. Shawn’s cuter. More air-time worthy. Perhaps it’s the same dynamic at work and has nothing to do with racism?

  5. I’m very proud of all this! They’re all studs in my eyes. Now, I hope that the Indians win all the Geography Bees soon. Indians in the house!!! I’d say that the bulk of these kids – the supermajority, in fact – are South Indians.

  6. I’d say that the bulk of these kids – the supermajority, in fact – are South Indians.

    do a headcount. you can tell my name, and if not, by reading their bios, right? (one of the girls listed ‘tamil language’ as something she wuz interested in) south indians are probably 25% of america’s indian population, max.

  7. Congrats to Kavya and others..Hope some of these spelling bee whiz kids make a career in “computational linguistics”

  8. Dad Shivshankar’s name is Mirle – what kind of name is that? Is that a weird spelling for Murali?

  9. #64:Dad Shivshankar’s name is Mirle – what kind of name is that? Is that a weird spelling for Murali?

    Mother’s name Sandy? Not desi enough! (sarcasm)

  10. I’d say that the bulk of these kids – the supermajority, in fact – are South Indians.

    I was looking at the list of all the desi kids who have been in the finals of the National Spelling Bee the last several years and I don’t think I saw anybody from the part of India where my parents come from. My level of ethnic pride is lower then usual due to this fact.

  11. do a headcount. you can tell my name,

    These days all the girls are Kaavya and all the boys are Rahul. In fact, if I meet a random Indian-American kid, that’s what I’m going to call them because the odds are I will be right –it’ll save me from learning a new name. But neither Kaavya nor Rahul are traditional South Indian names (i.e from the last 150 years or so). I first heard the name Kaavya in the US. It is really an Indian-American name.

  12. Rahul are traditional South Indian names

    Hmmmm….may be Gautam Buddh named his son after a Lemurian – who knows.

  13. And not even an interview with Kavya, so they can air a Gray’s Anatomy rerun? This would not have happened if that home-school-white-kid had won.

    maybe, maybe not. Spelling bees are an old American passtime, pre-dating baseball, so we could probably research the historical data on the amount of publicity accorded the spelling bee winners in pre-desi America. Nowadays, Indians winning spelling contests is a sort of ‘dog bites man story.’ If the winner had been an American black kid, they probably would have made the cover of Time magazine.

  14. I was looking at the list of all the desi kids who have been in the finals of the National Spelling Bee the last several years and I don’t think I saw anybody from the part of India where my parents come from. My level of ethnic pride is lower then usual due to this fact.

    He, he Suki. You have to take the good with the bad. We don’t know exactly why Indians win spelling bees but it probably has to do with culture and not genes (unlike winning marathons which is due more to biological and geographical reasons). South indians generally are more conservative than north indians, which by indian standards means much less individualistic and self-sacrficing towards the family. Kavya’s grandchildren will be All American and will probably flunk the spelling bee. Not because they’re dumb but more due to cultural reasons.

  15. #64:Dad Shivshankar's name is Mirle - what kind of name is that? Is that a weird spelling for Murali?
    
    Mother’s name Sandy? Not desi enough! (sarcasm)

    Saendya= Sandhya, (I googled that–it must be hard living there in Kansas). Mirle might be Murali.

    They might be Tamil, definitely South Indian though.

  16. Sorry mallus,iyers etc. Kavya’s folks are kannadigas, gowdas to boot. (vokkaligas) no relation to devegowda Mirle is the name of the village Kavyas dad’s side comes from. I know their family

  17. Mirle is the name of the village Kavyas dad’s side comes from. I know their family

    Interesting… Does it rhyme with the word for cockroach?

    How is it that Kavya is fluent in Tamil and not Kannada? Maybe Sandhya is Tamil?

  18. 21 · desi on May 28, 2009 04:18 PM · Direct link

    IF you read their profiles, they are all sterotypes.. doing the same stuffs like plays piano, violin, math competition etc…don’t desi’s have anything else fun to do in life?

    Even though I cringe at their nerdiness, and I’ve posted something along these lines with that “kid-genius” who knows all the state capitals and days/dates, I must say that math competition and piano is far more value-added and civilization-building than cultivating basketball skills. Civilizations are built on brainiacs who create software, architecture, civil engineering, and even literature. But it’s not based on someone’s athletic abilities.

    We can name far more prodigies of the Roman Empire and Renaissance Rome than we do their athletes/non-classical musicians.

  19. 78 · boston_mahesh on May 30, 2009 12:18 AM · Direct link 21 · desi on May 28, 2009 04:18 PM · Direct link IF you read their profiles, they are all sterotypes.. doing the same stuffs like plays piano, violin, math competition etc…don’t desi’s have anything else fun to do in life?

    BOSTON_MAHESH The formatting wasn’t correct in my original post above. This is how it should have read:

    Even though I cringe at their nerdiness, and I’ve posted something along these lines with that “kid-genius” who knows all the state capitals and days/dates, I must say that math competition and piano is far more value-added and civilization-building than cultivating basketball skills. Civilizations are built on brainiacs who create software, architecture, civil engineering, and even literature. But it’s not based on someone’s athletic abilities.

    We can name far more prodigies of the Roman Empire and Renaissance Rome than we do their athletes/non-classical musicians.

  20. We can name far more prodigies of the Roman Empire and Renaissance Rome than we do their athletes/non-classical musicians.

    We still remember guys like Ajax, Hanuman, and Bhima.

    We just live in an age where being really good at cracking skulls isn’t considered to be a valuable skill anymore.

    Maybe we should legalize dueling?

    Actually, we still remember Johnny Unitas too. So there is still immortality to be had in sports. You just have to be really good. Arthur Ashe, Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, and so on.

    It’s not so much about what you’re excellent at, it’s about being excellent at something.

  21. thanks for posting this, abhi. i missed all the excitement, although my mother did call me up on thursday to tell me all the female finalists were indian, so i was glad to find more detail at Sepia. re minimizing the brown presence – seems pretty illogical in a competition like this one – if you’re choosing the contestants by race (or tv viability),then seems like the competition won;t be as tough and would not be as much fun to watch. plus, can;t we get a break – the one thing desis are good at, and we finally made it to national television with it;)

    Kavya’s grandchildren will be All American and will probably flunk the spelling bee. Not because they’re dumb but more due to cultural reasons.

    my mother also mentioned something about one day seeing her grandchildren on the national spelling bee. but i should tell her that you don’t think that will happen ;)

    It is really an Indian-American name.

    not true. two of my family members in madras are named kaavya. and many of my cousins from madras had a kaavya or two as classmates. i think it has become more of a common name in the last few generations, but that’s been going on within india, as well. plus, it comes from sanskrit, so how can it be indian-american?

    sulabh and manpreet – too funny.

  22. Re: comment 77 , where did u hear abt her Tamil profeciemcy? Her mum is a Gowda too. Last year she gave an interview for Udaya channel and spoke Kannada

    She isn’t a Brahmin either, we gowdas are poor low caste farmers

  23. Re: comment 77 , where did u hear abt her Tamil profeciency? Her mum is a Gowda too. Last year Kavya gave an interview for Udaya channel and spoke Kannada quite fluently.

    She isn’t a Brahmin either, we gowdas are poor low caste farmers.

  24. It is curious to see a disproportionate amount of S. Indians but note that the Westinghouse/Intel science competition has many N. Indian finalists. You guys just choose not to participate, so the only interesting question is why this particular type of contest is prized by S. Indians and not N. Indians. My hypothesis is that most of these kids are the fruit of the 90s H1 boom which was disproportionatly S. Indian and interest in spelling bees and the value of rote memorization wanes as you become more “Americanized” and begin to value ingenuity and creative problem solving more (hence Intel Talent Search instead of bees)

  25. 82 Gowda gal

    where did u hear abt her Tamil profeciemcy?

    I confused her with Ramya Auroprem, who has a slightly weird last name herself, and is supposedly fluent in Tamil.

  26. She isn’t a Brahmin either, we gowdas are poor low caste farmers

    That’s good to know.

  27. Re: comment 77 , where did u hear abt her Tamil profeciency? Her mum is a Gowda too. Last year Kavya gave an interview for Udaya channel and spoke Kannada quite fluently. She isn’t a Brahmin either, we gowdas are poor low caste farmers.

    Funny how the tamil brahmins, who were so amusingly delirious with “brown pride” at Kavya’s victory in rote-learning, have disappeared all of a sudden upon learning that she is not a tambram. So their giddy joy was really a very narrow minded casteist pride at what they imagined was a great achievement (spelling prowess in their master’s language) of one of their own subcaste :-)

  28. She isn’t a Brahmin either, we gowdas are poor low caste farmers

    what exactly is a gowda? a caste? i think i’m one of them.

  29. No more funny than Gowdas and Bunts insisting that they are poor, uneducated, lacking in power, not responsible for the faults of our society, even if they have always had the majority, thrown up leaders, thrown up good-looking people, and demonstrated academic prowess.

  30. Kavya’s victory in rote-learning

    So does it make you feel proud of yourself to disparage a 13 year old girl’s accomplishments? What exactly have you done oh master of critical thinking and creativity?

  31. She isn’t a Brahmin either, we gowdas are poor low caste farmers what exactly is a gowda? a caste? i think i’m one of them

    It’s a very louche I-banker full of double entendres or an unpasteurized cheese favored by I-bankers

  32. Manju, you’re welcome. But, more importantly, what does Bess think?

  33. I wasn’t faking it.. Just tounge in cheek. I’m not proud to be a gowda or whatever, I abhor the caste system, hell I even married “out-of-caste” but I do agree with Bunt, most Brams jump up and down to claim all south India intel. I don’t ever get involved but I know Kavya and was amused by these claims. Manju: Gowda is actually Vokkaliga, there is VPA in the US which is like FOKANA etc. Trust me you would know if you are one- your mum would make mutton chops or koli saaru on Sundays Over & out.

  34. Trust me you would know if you are one- your mum would make mutton chops or koli saaru on Sundays

    Damn it! My (Tamil) mommy tends to “order out” on Sunday, even if I’m visiting. She claims that she “works” (or something) and likes to relax on the weekends. Now I know why I’m so damn “assimilated.”

  35. When I saw Kavya in the Spelling Bee Finals on ABC, along with my family. I commented to my wife this looks like a Kannadiga girl. It so happens she is indeed Kannadiga and to top it she is a Gowda girl too. Kavya certainly made Gowdas all over the world proud.

    Also the first runner up Aishwarya Pastapur is also a Kannadiga. First, Aravind Adiga with his Booker prize and then Bhimsen Joshi with Bharath Ratna. Now these Kannada girls showing their smarts in the Spelling Bee at the world stage. Kannadigas are on a role. Go Kannadigas!!

  36. 71 · Divya on May 29, 2009 09:52 AM · Direct link I was looking at the list of all the desi kids who have been in the finals of the National Spelling Bee the last several years and I don’t think I saw anybody from the part of India where my parents come from. My level of ethnic pride is lower then usual due to this fact. He, he Suki. You have to take the good with the bad. We don’t know exactly why Indians win spelling bees but it probably has to do with culture and not genes (unlike winning marathons which is due more to biological and geographical reasons). South indians generally are more conservative than north indians, which by indian standards means much less individualistic and self-sacrficing towards the family. Kavya’s grandchildren will be All American and will probably flunk the spelling bee. Not because they’re dumb but more due to cultural reasons.

    Then again, there’s guys like M. Night Shyamalan, Jay Chandrasekhar, and Aziz Ansari. So..when South Indians rebel, they really know how to do it.