Mark the date, Aspen, because on Feb. 6, it’s going to be a spelling throwdown with no holds barred.
The third annual Spell What?! Celebrity Spelldown is less than a month away, and already the competitors are talking trash concerning who will win the coveted title in 2014.
“Of course I’m going to win,” said Matthew Hamilton, the sustainability director at Aspen Skiing Co. and school board president for the Roaring Fork School District. “Why not? Pressure is relative, and my confidence will put pressure on my opponents.”
The Spell What?! event is a fundraiser, all the proceeds of which will go to the Aspen Youth Center. The fun starts at 6 p.m. at the Hotel Jerome with a cocktail reception and silent auction before dinner.
The highlight of the evening is the celebrity spelling bee, this year featuring Hamilton, Adam Frisch, Kathy Klug, Lori Pevny, Robin Smith and defending champion Oliver Sharpe.
Sharpe is an Emmy-winning television producer and host as well as a board member of the Aspen Youth Center.
“My strategy is simple,” Sharpe said, “because I have none. I’m staying loose, doing yoga and eating lots of oatmeal. I’m going up against some heavy hitters, but I’m confident I’ll be winning again.”
Producer Kale Lacroux came up with the idea three years ago for a celebrity spelling bee as a fun way to raise money for the youth center. It was originally going to be just a table, six chairs and a pitcher of water for the contestants, but that idea morphed into a ’70s-style game-show format.
“I collaborated with the folks at the youth center to make this a bigger and better event,” Lacroux said. “I’m encouraging all the contestants to have some fun and raise the profile of the event. It’s a great event for a great cause. If you haven’t been to one, it’s a blast. The audience can get involved, as well. It’s really a great time.”
Smith is the owner of Meridian Jewelers in Aspen and is excited to participate in the spelling competition.
“Do I think I can win?” she asked herself. “Yes — maybe — well, I really hope so. My strategy is practice, practice, practice. Oliver is the guy to beat, but I think whoever gets immunity will have the inside track. I hope that’s me.”
Smith was referring to one of several “cheats” the competitors can use. Each contestant can use each of the four cheats once during the spelldown.
If an audience member donates $150, the competitor of their choice gets a “try again” option if they make a spelling mistake. For $300, a table of people can help a contestant by spelling a word out loud and giving the contestant an opportunity to agree or disagree with the recommended spelling.
For $500, if your favorite contestant makes a spelling error, he or she gets a free pass to the next round of spelling.
The final cheat option has yet to have a monetary value set, but this will buy your favorite contestant immunity all the way to the final round. That contestant gets to wear a crown, sit in a comfortable chair and have drink service until the finals.
Frisch, an Aspen City Council member, says the key is to keep things simple and stick to your strategy.
“I’m a horrible speller,” he said. “I’m going to need some cheats because right now, my strategy is to win without spelling any words correctly. In fact, I’ll need a lot of help.”
Klug, the Aspen High School college counselor, said there’s no doubt she’s going to win.
“I’m going to win with a combination of my friends and fundraising for the Aspen Youth Center,” she said. “My strategy is to raise enough money to get immunity. I may be smart, but I’m not a speller. An educator who can’t spell just isn’t good, so I’ll need some help with the cheats.”
Pevny is the final competitor. She’s a mother of three and a broker at Alpine Real Estate. Pevny is investing heavily to win the spelling title.
“I’m currently at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Ohio,” she said tongue-in-cheek. “I’m here to hire a spelling-bee coach because I really need one. I’m determined to win the crown and help the Aspen Youth Center as much as possible. Tell my fellow competitors I’ll see them on Feb. 6 and they’d better be ready.“
The winner also gets to keep the spelling-bee trophy for a year. The first winner and first name on the trophy is none other than former Mayor Helen Klanderud, who died in October.
“Helen meant business when she was competing,” Sharpe said. “We’re all going to be missing her this year. All the competitors will be dedicating the competition this year to her memory.”
The Aspen Youth Center has been providing young people a safe and supportive place they can call their own since 1991. In 2013, 13,000 kids visited the center free of charge.