Where the main characters include at least one kid, a common plot is for them to participate in a school spelling bee. Basically any kid sitcom or cartoon is going to have an episode of this.
Basically, it is a competition where the competitors are asked to spell some of the most obscure, arcane words in the language. Very popular in English speaking countries due to the fact that English has some of the most convoluted spelling rules and one of the largest vocabularies of any language, with words (and pronunciation) borrowed from nearly every language on Earth. To do well in an English bee requires a very
good memory, and a passing knowledge of every language on the planet. They're also popular in China, Korea, and Japan (for writing out archaic characters), and the Francophonie (La Dictée, note
). But for countries with more regular spelling rules, this exercise would seem rather pointless.
Spelling bees are Serious Business
in Hollywood, which will usually give them more coverage than school athletics. The rules are also generally not the same as Real Life
spelling bee rules.
Now spell "Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis
- Buzz! takes spelling bees to unusually epic levels with a world where spelling causes the words to appear in physical form to be used to beat up opponents. Society seems centered around literature and spelling, smuggling spelling lists is a crime that warrants being exiled from the country, at least one cult is mentioned as worshiping the Scrabble board, back-alley spelling bees are treated like back-alley brawls, and a mysterious group called the "Spelluminati" secretly controls all sanctioned spelling bees. The artwork was done by Tess Stone, so the illustrations of weaponized words is pretty damned awesome.
- This is a major plot point in the Peanuts movie A Boy Named Charlie Brown. After winning one at his school, Charlie Brown goes to a national spelling bee in New York City. When they are down to the last two people, Charlie Brown is destined to win, but because Charlie Brown spelled "beagle" as "B-E-A-G-E-L", he lost the spelling bee.
- And in the newspaper cartoon, Charlie Brown got the word "maze" and spelled it M-A-Y-S, like Willie Mays.
- The premise of Bad Words centers around a grown man who exploits a loophole to enter a spelling bee.
- Akeelah and the Bee
- Bee Season
- One chapter in The Patchwork Quilt by Adele de Leeuw is about how well the protagonist Josie does in her school's spelling bee, despite her usual poor spelling.
- Cheap Seats featured the National Spelling Bee Championship in four episodes.
- Mr. Belvedere had a Spelling Bee episode. Wesley threw it for a girl by spelling phlegm "flem." Then she dumped him.
- Frasier had a Spelling Bee episode with Frasier's son, too.
- Full House had a Spelling Bee episode with Stephanie, where the guys taught her mnemonic devices to help her remember words. First word she gets? Mnemonic. Has no idea how to spell it.
- Psych had a murder set at one. Gus turned out to be a spelling bee fanatic.
- According to Jim had a Spelling Bee episode, involving a bribe of dinner from Red Lobster for Jim's daughter to forfeit so she didn't have to be driven there...
- Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide: Ned keeps coincidentally getting easy words... and then gets a really impossible one. Cookie has to deal with a group of rival spellers trying to psych him out. He wins after spelling "victorious", but it takes Ned and everyone else pulling their pants down and showing their underwear for Cookie to remember how to spell it.
- The Amanda Show spoofed this with a smelling bee.
- On Leverage, in an attempt to make a student look good, Sophie rigged a spelling bee to give him easy words and the other students impossible ones. This backfires when the student's opponent is capable of spelling everything up past Antidisestablishmentarianism, and he is unable to spell "bicycle".
- The Middle had an episode in which Brick participates in a spelling bee. It even followed the proper rules, used actual words from past spelling bees, and mentioned the national bee in Washington (though the fact that the show's on the network that runs the spelling bee probably has a lot to do with it). Unfortunately, Brick ended up coming in second... because of his tendency to repeat the last thing he said in a whisper.
- A. Van Jordan's 2004 book M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A is a suite of poems exploring the life of Macnolia Cox, who, in 1936, became the first African American finalist in The National Spelling Bee.
- In Spellbound!, Morty Maxwell challenges the player to this. On each of the five levels, the player has to clear a set of three word-related mini-games. This unlocks the level's Spelling Bee, featuring two opponents each time. Morty joins the competition at the last two levels, and he's never the first contestant to miss a word.
- The Misfortune of Being Ned has one of these. Which ends with Ned being repeatedly stung by a bee.
- Brawl of the Objects has one of these with two characters from supposed rival object shows. In French.
- The Simpsons had an episode with an international spelling bee tournament, and they wanted Lisa to take a dive so a cute boy could win.
- Drawn Together had a spelling bee episode, where Foxxy, of all people, was the best speller in her youth.
- Hey Arnold! had a spelling bee episode with Helga, who purposely threw it because her father only wanted her to win because it was the first contest her sister Olga had won and he wanted Helga to become an Olga clone, and even tried to bribe Arnold into losing, which made her realize he had no confidence in her.
- South Park nods to the trope with the episode "Hooked on Monkey Fonics", although the spelling bee does not end up being the primary focus of the episode; the spelling bee is merely an excuse to introduce two homeschooled siblings to the cast (one of whom is, in fact, a pastiche of an actual national spelling bee winner). The main plot of the episode deals with the brother's attempts to fit in at school, and Kyle having a crush on the sister.
- Cartman's mother bought the titular Monkey Fonics to help her son train for the spelling bee. He gets thrown out on the first round after being unable to spell "chair" - simply because the Monkey Fonics didn't have the word.
- Arthur had a school-wide spelling bee where the title character won.
- William Murderface of Metalocalypse was invited to participate in a celebrity spelling bee. Between his unrealistic opinion of his own spelling prowess and his mistaken expectation of receiving a word list in advance, Toki doesn't expect him to do well. And he doesn't, because he starts spelling his first word before the judge calls it out.
- Ed, Edd n Eddy had an episode where Ed ends up winning a spelling bee at the school, to the justified horror of Double D who was also competing.
- The Goof Troop episode "Educating Goofy" features one of the worst possible spelling bee performances imaginable: of the four extras in the bee, three of them couldn't take the pressure and ran and one of them played out of turn. PJ loses immediately as well, because Pete told him to advertise the car lot instead of spelling the word. Then it's down to Max and Goofy (who had gone back to school), who both repeatedly spell words wrong on purpose in the hope that the other one will win. Eventually, Goofy only wins by accident. And if that weren't enough, Pete kept swapping in a sheet of car-related words for even more inappropriate advertising.
- Detention has an episode where six of the eight main kids compete for a Get Out of Detention Free card. Shareena practices with morbid words, Shelley learns cheerful words, and Oranjella and Lemonjella one-up each other with long words. During the bee, Shareena and Shelley fail to spell words from each other's practice books. Duncan uses a vibrating yo-yo string to pronounce letters, but it snaps after one letter too many. Final round: the twins get double-disqualified when one of them interrupts the other's spelling of "rivalry," and Gug wins by spelling a word that he heard the twins spell during practice.
- Great moments from real-life spelling bees...