The National Spelling Bee is a bizarre ritual. Every spring, hundreds of middle-school students cram into a hotel ballroom and attempt to spell obscure words that few human beings have ever uttered — or will ever utter — in the course of their lifetimes.
Here's what's even weirder: more than one million people tune in to watch. This week, ESPN will broadcast the Scripps National Spelling Bee live, just as it's done every year since 1994. The "likes watching little kids spell big, weird words" demographic apparently demands it.
"My first thought when they started broadcasting the bee was, 'Why would anybody care?'" says Katie Kerwin McCrimmon, the 1979 champion who subsequently worked for ESPN as a bee commentator. "The first year, it was on CNN and then ESPN wanted to broadcast it and there was a bit of a bidding war. ESPN seemed like such a mismatch to me, but they always said that when it went on in sports bars, people would just eat it up."