“There isn’t a single person that’s been involved in this 2021 Bee who hasn’t been near tears over technology and the internet,” Brooks said. “I understand you’ve had some issues tonight, so we just want to tell you we’re pulling for you, and you’ve done a great job of being persistent and patient.”
Sophia was given the word “yamamai,” which is a large Japanese silkworm, and she quickly got it right. ESPN analyst Paul Loeffler, a former Bee finalist, immediately praised her resilience, saying she handled a tough situation “perfectly.”
“It was a lot harder,” Sophia said. “I had my proctor holding up the cell phone and it was a little bit crazy for the semifinals. There were notifications (popping up) on the phone. It was hard to focus at times … probably harder than it should have been.”
That put Sophia in the final 20 spellers for Round 8′s word-meaning questions. She was asked whether the word pomaceous relates to a ceremonial display, a fragrant hair dressing or apples. With 30 seconds to respond, she asked Bee pronouncer Jacques Bailly to repeat the options, and could be seen leaning in closer to her phone screen to read those options.
When she guessed “a fragrant hair dressing,” the dreaded bell sounded. Sophia Lopez put her hands to her face, and was gracious in response, thanking Brooks for her kind words.
“I was familiar with yamamai because I had studied it recently. But pomaceous; I had never heard it,” Sophia said Monday. “I was distracted and the words were really small on the screen so I couldn’t see it very well. I didn’t have a lot of time to think after I had (the options) repeated. That was probably one of the reasons why I didn’t choose the smartest answer.”
As Sophia finished tied for 16th, ESPN’s Loeffler talked about the technological issues playing a part.
“You can’t help but wonder — would it have been different if she didn’t have the hang-ups that she had to fight through that others didn’t,” he said.
Michael Durnil, the spelling bee’s executive director, said the organization did all it could to make sure Sophia could compete. He said Bee officials acknowledged the stress of this case, and said Sophia handled the situation extremely well. But he said there are no appeals at this level of competition.
“We have a simultaneous review process (where) a series of judges are playing back the feed, making real-time decisions and verifying the judges’ calls,” Durnil said. “Should the the judges feel a reinstatement is called for, they’ll make that call, but that did not happen in this case.”
Sophia said she hopes to compete again in her final year of eligibility in 2022, and hopes it’s not in an online format. She said she thinks she has “a good shot” at making the national bee for the third time. Asked what she had learned, she showed wisdom beyond her years.
“You just kind of have to go with the flow, I guess, when things end up weird,” she said.