Rona Lisa Peretti, the moderator of the bee, enters the gymnasium to set up, and is quickly thrown back to her own Putnam County Spelling Bee experience, where she won with the word “syzygy.” The students begin to enter and, along with the four spellers who have been selected from the show’s audience, are welcomed by Ms. Peretti (“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”). Ms. Peretti pulls Olive Ostrovsky aside and tells her that she still owes the $25 fee for the bee. Olive reveals that she’s come alone on a bus, so there’s no parent there who can pay. Ms. Peretti decides to let the fee slide. She introduces the spellers to Vice Principal Douglas Panch, who has returned after a murky incident five years previously, which he assures the audience he’s bounced back from. Next to be introduced is the Official Comfort Counselor, Mitch Mahoney, an intimidating-looking convicted criminal who is serving his community service at the bee. Mitch leads the spellers in the Pledge of Allegiance, and Panch then explains the bee rules (“The Spelling Rules/My Favorite Moment of the Bee”).
One by one, each speller is called up to the microphone. First is Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, followed by Leaf Coneybear. Leaf was the third place winner in his local bee, but is at the county bee because both the first and second place winners had to attend a bar mitzvah. Although he isn’t sure he knows the word he’s given, “capybara,” Leaf spells it correctly in a kind of a trance. Next up is Olive, a shy girl whose father is a workaholic and whose mother is in an ashram in India. Olive learned to love spelling by reading her family’s dictionary (“My Friend, the Dictionary”). Next up is self-confident William Barfee. Ms. Peretti explains William’s unusual technique of spelling each word with his foot on the ground before spelling it aloud.
Interspersed between these spellers are the audience spellers, who have received consistently simple words, such as “Mexican” and “cow,” which riles