Champion Speller Gets Guerdon -- Literally

There are two astoundingly slow-moving TV contests that I find absolutely mesmerizing, and that have gained more converts and visibility in recent years. One is curling. The other is spelling.

ABC’s prime-time (!) coverage of the finals of the 2008 Scripps National Spelling Bee was a thriller, and also provided one of the funniest TV moments of the season. One contestant, 13-year-old Sameer Mishra, was given the word “numnah,” defined as “a felt or sheepskin pad placed between a horse’s back and a saddle to prevent chafing.” But he misheard the word as “numbnuts,” and it took a few very funny exchanges before young Mishra registered the pronunciation properly.

“That’s a relief,” he said, drawing even more laughter and applause from the crowd.

So how great was it when, at the end, Mishra emerged as the champ? His winning word was “guerdon,” which, to the delight of double-meaning fans everywhere, is defined as “something earned or gained.” By getting “guerdon,” Mishra got a guerdon.

My only complaints with this delightful TV special are peripheral. It both annoyed and saddened me that most of ABC’s promotional ads, during this most intelligent of programs, were for upcoming series of almost numbing stupidity, such as Wipeout.

And because there were so many gifted spellers this year, pushing the final round later and later, the live program scheduled for two hours ran overtime. If you set your DVR or VCR to record the show, and watched it later, you’d have been cut off in midword, with the final three contestants still standing.

It’s the second time this month that fans relying on their recorders to capture the tense finals of a live competition show would have been burned by an overtime finish. The first time? American Idol, which cut off on preset DVRs and VCRs just before Ryan Seacrest announced which David received the guerdon of 2008’s Idol crown.

I know, you can preset your recorders to record past a certain time – but how many times does a miss-the-ending accident actually happen before you learn your lesson and start thinking, and programming, in advance?

Two times. At least for me.