Interview: Spelling Bee National Finalist, Clarissa Wiratmadja

Macleans College News Interview with Clarissa Wiratmadja, a New Zealand Spelling Bee national finalist.

You went to Wellington last year for nationals, can you recap how it felt going as a representative of Macleans?

The Auckland Regionals were really, really easy – I felt like I got really lucky, for some reason. For example, Manvinder [Kaur] (another competitor) got at least one hard word – I don’t quite remember what it was – and the guy who came second, named Russell, he got quite a few hard words but he still managed to get through to the finals.

So, did you feel like you deserved to go to the finals?

No, not really. It was mainly just luck. I just happened to get easy words like, megalomaniac. *laughs*

What was the experience like, competing in Wellington?

It was very fun getting to meet and know everyone, and then the dinner we had there – well, the contestants had to sit all together and at one point we sort of formed two groups. Manvinder, me, Russell and one other guy were one of the groups and we ended up making origami cranes out of paper napkins.

Best dinner experience!

But, the actual competition was, well, it really was quite nerve-wracking because all these camera men were there and honestly, it was really scary. They weren’t filming me specifically, but they often took photos of us as a group and then they sometimes interviewed one person and asked them to spell a specific word. The only one they really interviewed was the winner, George.

Did you ever doubt yourself there? Or like, catch yourself thinking, ‘how did I get here’?

All the time. All the time.

You’re in the finals for the school-wide spelling bee. Are you excited to repeat the process or are you willing to give your position in the nationals to someone else? Like, would you be willing to go again?

I can’t go again to the nationals because it’s only for year 9 and 10. So last year was my one and only chance, really.

So you succeeded on your first go!


Some difficult words you’ve always had trouble with? The ones that come to mind?

Problem is, I can’t actually think of them until they actually give me them in the competition! Double letters are really hard. I got out on ‘filigree’ because I spelled it with two ‘L’s’ instead of one because for previous words that I had gotten wrong I would only spell with one letter when it was actually a double letter word, so I decided to spell it with a double letter, but it was wrong.

Can you spell a couple of words for us?

  1. Aquiesce – she was so close! She missed out the ‘c’.
  2. Czechoslovakia – point for Clarissa!

Lastly, do you have any advice to eager spellers or aspiring linguists out there that are year 9 and 10’s?

Mmm, you’re allowed to ask questions – so you might as well ask all the questions that you can. For example: definitions, context, everything. And I’m not sure exactly how it works now, but I think the time limit only starts when you begin spelling the word so don’t start spelling the word, stop in the middle and then think of the rest – try to think of it all in your head first and then try to do it syllable by syllable.

That’s it! Thank you for your time.

Interview done by Varya Pavlova. Edited by Saffron Huang.

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