ESCONDIDO, Calif. — Giabao Tonthat, an eighth-grader at Heritage K-8 Charter School in Escondido, correctly spelled two words Tuesday and was hoping to advance to the semifinals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., which has incorporated vocabulary questions for the first time.
The contestants on Tuesday took computer-based spelling and vocabulary tests, which are considered the first round of the bee. They took to the stage at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center today for the second and third rounds, during which Giabao correctly spelled “Qatari” and “flabbergast,” meaning to overwhelm with shock.
Whether Giabao will advance to Thursday’s semifinals will depend on how he performed on the computerized tests. A maximum of 50 spellers — out of the original field of 281 — will advance to the semifinals. Semifinalists were expected to be announced around 3 p.m. California time.
Adding the vocabulary questions “is a significant change in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, but also a natural one,” according to Paige Kimble, the bee’s executive director and its 1981 champion.
“It represents a deepening of the bee’s commitment to its purpose — to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts and develop English usage that will help them all their lives,” Kimble said.
Giabao is 13, loves playing with his Australian shepherds May and Com, enjoys football, reading and soccer. His favorite movie is “Toy Story 3” and he likes the music of pianist and YouTube sensation Kyle Landry.
The bee is limited to students in eighth grade or below, with contestants ranging in age from 8 to 14 years old.
The field consists of students who won locally sponsored bees in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, along with American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Department of Defense schools in Europe.
Seven foreign nations are also represented — the Bahamas, Canada, China, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea.
The winner of the bee will receive $30,000 from Scripps, which owns television stations and newspapers; a $2,500 U.S. savings bond and complete reference library from the dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster; and $2,000 in reference works from Encyclopaedia Britannica.
The semifinal and championship rounds will be held Thursday, with a contestant eliminated after he or she misspells a word.
ESPN2 will carry the semifinals from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday. The championship finals will be on ESPN from 5-7 p.m. Thursday.
Throughout the entire competition, ESPN3.com will carry a second “play along” version, where viewers will have the option to view coverage without seeing the word until the last second so they can test their spelling skills against the champion spellers. This is ESPN’s 20th year of covering the bee.
San Diego produced last year’s champion, Snigdha Nandipati.