WASHINGTON -- Samir Patel's dream of winning the national
spelling title, a goal that dominated the last five years of his
life, ended in one quick moment Thursday with the word "clevis."
Spectators in the Grand Hyatt ballroom gasped as the 13-year-old
Texan spelled out the word for a type of fastening device as
"c-l-e-v-i-c-e." The error eliminated him in the fifth round of
the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Samir, considered by many to be this year's favorite, wiped away
tears as he talked about it later.
"The first thing I thought was c-l-e-v-i-s, and if I had been
slow and cautious like I always am, I would have got it right," he
said. "But I just outsmarted myself. It was an easy word. I just
made a stupid mistake."
Samir's mother appealed his dismissal, based on subtle
differences in how the word's final syllable can be pronounced, but
officials rejected her appeal.
With Samir absent, 33 spellers advanced to the sixth round of
the 80th annual bee, and 15 of those survived to compete in the
finals Thursday night. In between, the finalists made a surprise
visit to the White House to meet first lady Laura Bush.
Other top favorites from previous years remained in contention
for the title, which comes with a $35,000 prize, plus a $5,000
scholarship, a $2,500 savings bond and a set of reference works.
The day began with 59 spellers remaining from the record 286 who
started the competition Wednesday.
Tia Thomas, 12, of Coarsegold, Calif., bounced on her feet and
kept her arms folded behind her back as she dispatched "sagittal"
(resembling an arrow), then raised both arms in triumph. Matthew
Evans, 12, from Albuquerque, N.M., mastered "azotea" (a terraced
roof). Both are in the bee for the fourth time.
The afternoon semifinals were televised for the 14th year by
ESPN, with the finals to air on ABC in prime time for the second
For the third time in two days, the Kiwi accent of the
representative from New Zealand threw the judges for a loop. After
listening to a replay, officials still weren't sure if 13-year-old
Kate Weir of Christchurch had tried to spell "jardiniere" (an
ornamental plant stand) with a "g" or a "j." They finally asked
her to give another word starting with the letter. When she said
"giraffe," the bell sounded and she was out.
The words got tougher as the rounds progressed, and several
spellers used humor when they reached the breaking point. Josiah
Wright of Fleetwood, N.C., asked "Is that English?" when he heard
the scientific term "ptilopod."
"They tell me it is," replied pronouncer Jacques Bailly.
Josiah spelled the word as "tylopod" and was eliminated.
Others stayed alive with a good guess.
"Wow, this is a new one," said Caroline Rouse of St. Louis
upon hearing "beccafico" (a kind of bird).
Claire Zhang, 14, of Jupiter, Fla., knew something was amiss
when she heard the telltale bell signal that she had misspelled
"burelage" (intricate lines found on security paper). Claire had
been escorted to the edge off the stage on the way to the comfort
room before the judges ordered an audio replay of her spelling and,
after a delay of several minutes, discovered that she had indeed
spelled it flawlessly.
"Claire, you may resume your place," head judge Mary Brooks
announced as the audience cheered.