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To be a champ, it takes 'hard work': Scripps National Spelling Bee moderator on what it takes to win

Jacques Bailly is himself a former Scripps National Spelling Bee champion, and has served as the Bee's head pronouncer for over 20 years.
Jacques Bailly the Scripps National Spelling Bee head pronouncer
Posted at 4:22 PM, May 31, 2024

Jacques Bailly, the Scripps National Spelling Bee's head pronouncer, reads the words that help lead the Bee's champions to victory. This year, Bruhat Soma became the 2024 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion after a dramatic tiebreaker between the two top spellers in the event.

To be a champ, it takes "hard work," Bailly said.

Twelve-year-old Bruhat was crowned Thursday night after correctly spelling 29 words in 90 seconds in what’s known as a “spell-off.”

Bailly has seen many champions in the nearly 100 years of the Bee, and he himself was a Scripps National Spelling Bee champion before going on to earn a Ph.D. in ancient philosophy from Cornell University.

Scripps National Spelling Bee 2024 winner Bruhat Soma.

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Bailly has been a familiar face for fans of the Bee, and he says he loves celebrating all of the contestants, and has enjoyed seeing the Bee grow. In recent years, 11 million entries have come in at the school level.

"It's like the Olympics, the records keep falling," he said.

"I just love words, I love learning. I love that the mission of the Bee is to further the kids' imagination," Bailly said.

The judges are very supportive of the kids who compete.

Bruhat, the 2024 winner, said he prepared just in case he found himself in a spell-off.

"I was pretty nervous, but like I knew I've been practicing the spell-off for like the whole past year, maybe like six months at least," he said.

Bailly says that part of being a good speller is to "keep reading."

"All of these words are used," he said. "Read a lot of nonfiction ... and pay attention when you go to a restaurant," Bailly said. "The menu items, they're all Spelling Bee words."