Rachael Cundey approached the summit of all spelling bees with her fifth trip to the national contest this week, but she never made it to the top.
Rachael tripped on the word “calotte,” which means a small, brimless cap, in the semifinal rounds Thursday, falling out of contention for the Scripps National Spelling Bee title.
“I wasn’t sure I knew how to spell it,” she said by telephone. “I know how to spell it now.”
Rachael, who will be a freshman at Lakeside High School, was in her final year of eligibility for the national bee and was one of only two contenders this year to make it to Washington, D.C., in all five years of eligibility. She finished tied for 10th last year.
Rachael advanced to the two-round semifinals Thursday. She spelled “recusancy” (refusal to obey authority) correctly, advancing to Round 6 with 31 others. The next round proved to be more difficult, as five of the first nine spellers were eliminated, including Rachael.
When the bell rang to signal her elimination, “I was OK,” she said. “I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to spell it correctly, so it wasn’t a big surprise.”
Eliminated contestants are directed off the stage to an area where they wait for their parents, and Rachael said an ESPN camera followed her as she made her exit.
“It was OK,” she said. “It would have been uncomfortable if I had been crying or something.”
She said she talked to her father, grandparents and friends to deliver the news. She and her mother plan to take a tour of the capital and attend the awards banquet today.