On Thursday, February 17, spellers, donors, and cheaters alike mingled in the beautiful halls of the Herbst Theater.
In the past month, teams from all over the Bay Area emerged, proclaiming their spelling prowess on Facebook and Twitter. They joined Tracy Chapman, Daniel Handler, Michael Chabon, Adam Savage, Joe Loya, Lisa Brown, and Thao Nguyen, hoping to win not only the big, shiny trophy, but also the hearts of generous donors whose funds allowed spellers to purchase cheats. It was a spelling bee for cheaters, after all.
As the audience found their seats and the lights dimmed, the theater erupted with cheers. The audience was transported back to their middle-school auditorium, watching friends squirm with words provided by Vice Principal Panch, played by the hysterical Jay Reiss. Reiss, along with fellow 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee co-creators Rebecca and Liz Feldman, kept the evening flowing, flinging out words like oeil-de-boeuf and strabismus with ease. Spellers struggled to keep straight faces as the bee quickly turned absurd: Tracy Chapman correctly spelled merkin; Thao Nguyen transformed her word locomotive into a mini-concert, singing, “we are all, after all, locomotives”; and the judges asked contestants to keep their minds out of the gutter after giving them words like apoop and evaginate.
After two hours the competition narrowed down to its finalists, Sunil Patel and Kelly Sortino. The pair showed off their true orthographical abilities, no longer allowed to use cheats. After several nail-biting rounds, Kelly Sortino emerged as the champion after correctly spelling lysergic acid diethylamide. Though she brought home the trophy, 826 co-founder Dave Eggers and executive director Leigh Lehman pointed out that with over $100,000 raised for 826 Valencia’s free youth programming, everyone who attended and donated were also winners.
Thank you to all our loyal volunteers and generous donors for supporting 826, with special thanks to our guests Tracy Chapman, Thao Nguyen, Adam Savage (who came in third), Michael Chabon, Joe Loya, Lisa Brown, and Daniel Handler. Additionally, thank you to our corporate sponsors for making this event possible: The Morrison Foerster Foundation, Franklin Templeton Investments, and Kerr & Wagstaffe LLP. And finally, a special thanks goes to Rebecca and Liz Feldman and Jay Reiss, as well as our wonderful friends at City Arts and Lectures.