Tonight we get to see 285 young minds square off in the Scripps National Spelling Bee finals (8pm EDT on ESPN), and meet at least one more member of one of the world's most elite clubs: winners of the bee. Past victors describe to the Guardian the high stakes of competing and what they're doing now, with one calling it "one of the most unique, odd clubs you can be in." Of course there's the pressure, including the obsessive rote memorization (you need to study the dictionary once you get to the national level), the ability to master Latin and Greek roots, and the painful experience of the "crying room," where kids go after they've misspelled a word. On the other hand, many admit their wins instilled in them confidence, ambition, and a stellar work ethic: Past winners grew up to be a NASA aerospace engineer, an attorney, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, and even a poker champ who won nearly $840,000 in 2014.
But not everyone is enthusiastic about what the bee means, to the winners or losers. Rebecca Sealfon, who won in 1997 by spelling "euonym" correctly, compares the competition to The Hunger Games and says "Americans particularly enjoy watching winners win and losers lose." And Indian-American writer Lavanya Ramanathan, who grew up in a similarly competitive household, writes of the bee winners for the Washington Post, "When they’re 30 … will these kids wish that they'd played soccer instead? Because I do." Meanwhile, to help you while away (not wile away) the time before the main event, USA Today wants to fill your brain with all things bee-related, including fun stats, the odd preponderance of foodie-related words in the contest so far, and an interactive quiz that throws past winning words at you to test your own skills. (Bee organizers ran out of words for two youngsters competing in Missouri.)