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 speakers of languages 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. (Yes, spelling bees happen regularly in reality, although they're generally more mundane and low-profile than fictional versions.)
Now spell "Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis."note
Examples, E-X-A-M-P-L-E-S, Examples:
- An ad for Feldco windows, siding and doors took place at a spelling bee. The judge directed the young girl onstage to spell "simplicity." She spelled it "F-E-L-D-C-O." The judges decreed this "close enough."
- A series of ads for GEICO auto insurance claimed that "everybody knows" that GEICO can save you money on car insurance. One of them had the question, "Did you know that Old MacDonald is a bad speller? Cut to the old farmer from the children's song being asked to spell "Cow." He spelled it, "C-O-W-E-I-E-I-O"note and was promptly given the buzzer.
- An ad for Walt Disney World's 100 Years of Magic celebration starts with a kid asked to spell "microphone". The kids starts spelling "M-I-C...", then an someone chimes in with "K-E-Y", and the whole auditorium erupts into the famous theme song.
- The first half of the Brian Regan sketch "Stupid In School" is about Brian discussing his feelings towards spelling bees back when he was in school. He admits to admiring the kids who knew they weren't going to win, and so spelled a word wrong right away so they wouldn't have to stand for hours.
First round: "Cat". "K-A-T, I'm outta here."
- 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.
- My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Friendship Games: The fourth portion of the academic decathlon is a spelling bee. As it is part of a song, this goes rather fast. We mostly see the words that eliminate one of the participants; overall, this give the impression the girls aren't very good at spelling. Only Human!Twilight spells her word (isosceles) correctly.
- 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 eager to win, but he cracks under the pressure and misspells "beagle" as "B-E-A-G-E-L", losing the spelling bee.
- 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.
- In one of the last books in The Great Brain series TD participates in a spelling bee at his school. The prize is a bicycle, which he wants, but in the final round he's up against a girl he likes who would be mad at him if he beat her. He manages to force a tie by intentionally misspelling words whenever she makes an error. Eventually the people in charge call it a draw, meaning they both get bikes.
- The final book in the Regarding The... series centered around the seventh graders preparing for and participating in a spelling bee. Among other things, they're incensed that their literal spelling bee Honey (a honeybee who can spell out words using her flight patterns) is banned from participating and discover that the supposed top teacher in the district was actually cheating by spelling words out to her students via sign language.
- 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.
- In The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Cody enters a spelling bee, which Zack tries (and fails) to convince Cody to deliberately lose in order to pay back another spelling bee competitor who he borrowed money from.
- 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.
- Get a Life had a single-episode storyline where Chris becomes a spelling bee prodigy (and his ex-cop roommate became an origami master) after exposure to toxic waste.
- Grace and Frankie : Frankie and her ex-husband watch the spelling bee every year. An episode revolves around this event.
- Wizards of Waverly Place: In "Marathoner Harper", Alex makes up it to Harper for having used magic on her to make her unfairly win many contests in the past by recreating those contests. One of these constests was the fourth grade spelling bee.
- A 2005 episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by Jack Black (there to promote ''King Kong (2005)) ends with a skit in which an awkward young boy, played by Will Forte, is asked to spell "business." He fails miserably, making sure to throw in plenty of Qs, and the skit ends with Tenacious D singing a song about the spelling bee. In the last line, Jack says that the little boy was him all along.
- Téléfrançais!: In one episode, Jacques, Sophie, and Ananas participate in a spelling bee. They almost tie with the other team until Ananas scores the winning point, due to being pitted against an Inanimate Competitor.
- In Stranger Things, the police chief Jim Hopper tries to pry information from a state coroner. He talks to him undercover in a bar and buys him a drink under the guise of celebrating his daughter's victory in a spelling bee contest.
Jim Hopper: My daughter, she won the spelling bee today.
Gary O'Bannon: Is that right? Yeah, that's right.
Jim Hopper: Odontalgia. That was the word. You know what it means? It's a fancy name for a toothache.
- Peanuts: One arc involves Charlie Brown entering one. After a bunch of strips involving him practicing for the bee, before he washes out on the first word 'maze', which he spells 'M-A-Y-S'. He was thinking of Willie Mays at the time.
- The Far Side does a spelling bee for cavemen. One gets the easy word "cave" while the next one laments that he'll probably get "Australopithecus".
- 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.
- "Banananananananana", a short poem by William Cole:
I thought I'd win the spelling bee,
And get right to the top,
But I started to spell "banana",
And I didn't know when to stop.
- 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.
- In Terror Island, York gets Sid and Stephen to compete in a spelling bee to determine who has to buy groceries. It includes the archaic "Camelopard", the word "iufjeme" (which York admits isn't really a word), and the "null 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.
- One Derrick Comedy skit involves a bee in which three finalists are asked to spell a... questionable (and completely made-up) word: "niggerfaggot."
- The Simpsons has an episode with a rigged international spelling bee tournament, and they want Lisa to take a dive so her competitor can win. She refuses to, but spells the word wrong anyway, losing both the prize and the bribe. As for the third finalist, she is told to spell one in a set of homophones and loses after getting out the second letter.
George Plimpton: Your word is "weather/whether".
Sun Moon: Which one? Can you use it in a sentence?
George Plimpton: Certainly. "I don't know whether the weather will improve."
- 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.
- Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes: In "The Contest of Champions", one of the Grandmaster's challenges was a spelling bee between Johnny and Annhilus. Johnny cheats by secretly lighting a flame on Annihilus's butt during the latter's turn causing him to lose.
- 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.
- My Gym Partner's a Monkey: In one episode, Adam is transferred to a nerd class called "The Spiffies" and starts acting like them and wearing their uniform. In order to get Adam back, Jake must beat him at a spelling bee.
- This was the focus of the American Dad! episode "Spelling Bee My Baby", where there was a romance between the two finalists and the last we see of the contest is both of the contestants misspelling their words over and over again.
- The Proud Family: When Wizard Kelly launches a spelling bee competition, Oscar forces Penny to train and makes her enter the competition so that he can re-live his glory days all over again, but the son of a contestant who lost to Oscar in a spelling bee that happened years ago made other ways to win the competition.
- In Total Drama, Ezekiel's official online biography says that he won the National Spelling Bee.
- In the Pinky, Elmyra & the Brain episode, "Gee, Your Hair Spells Teriffic", The Brain plans to clone dinosaurs from fossilized amber mosquitos. To get the money to do so, he has to get Elmyra to win a spelling bee, and given Elmyra's atrocious spelling, the only way to make that work is to cheat, something celebrity judge Baloney the Dinosaur doesn't take too kindly to.
- In the subplot of "Black Widows" from Totally Spies!, Sam ends up competing in the Beverly Hills High School annual spelling bee and enlists Alex and Clover to help her prepare for it—Sam's friends argue that she's pretty much a shoo-in to win, since she's the smartest girl at their high school. Sam becomes more determined to win when the trio's rival, Mandy, reveals that she's planning on competing in it—not because she's into any of the academic-related aspects of school, but because she wants to beat Sam and take her place as the smartest girl at their high school. In the end, Sam still ends up competing in the spelling bee (albeit a little reluctantly, mostly because she didn't have time to prepare because of the spy mission she and her friends ended up going on). However, it turns out that Sam may still have a chance of at least beating out Mandy in the spelling bee, because when she shows up for the competition, she ends up suffering from some stage fright when she sees how many people are in the auditorium where the spelling bee is being held.
- Punky Brewster, episode "Spellbound": Punky is on her way to Washington D.C. for a spelling bee. Glomer zaps a bee that makes people spell out words when it alights on them to help Punky, but she refuses it saying that would be cheating. The bee takes off on its own where it disrupts a senator's campaign rally.