Talk about biting the hand that feed you…
Rebecca Sealfon — arguably the most famous participant ever in the SCRIPPS NATIONAL SPELLING BEE — has decided she no longer wants anything to do with the contest that made her famous.
I have been trying to track this girl down for years. The closest I got was last spring when her father answered the telephone and said she was not interested in talking about her brush with fame on The Bee.
Now I am being told by a producer of the annual competition — (which, BTW, airs tonight on ESPN) — that she has twice declined to do a “catching up” interview.
Rebecca became an overnight sensation in 1997 when she began jumping up and down and screaming out the letters to words in an unprecedented display of ticcy, adolescent weirdness.
Check out my story in today’s New York Post:
Rebecca Sealfon has turned her back on the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
New York’s most famous word girl — whose screaming, jumping 1997 victory has become a YouTube classic — no longer wants to be associated with the competition that made her an overnight celebrity.
“We contacted her twice and both times she politely told us she wants nothing to do with the Bee,” says Tim Weinkauf, producer of the annual broadcast that airs tonight on ESPN.
“She doesn’t like the attention that it got her. She thinks it showed her in a negative light.”
Sealfon was just 13 and homeschooled when she became the Bee’s 70th — and most colorful — champion.
Wearing a white polo shirt several sizes too large, she yelled out each letter in the winning word — E-U-O-N-Y-M — during a burst of nervous energy that would become the inspiration for a character on “South Park.”
Moments later, in a televised interview, Sealfon boldly declared there should be no more spelling bees because “many children are in grief because they lose — and everyone gets nervous.”
Now 29, the Brooklyn native has spent much of her post-spelling life avoiding the spotlight and turning down almost all interview requests.
The Post was unable to reach her by phone yesterday.
Sealfon earned an undergraduate degree from Princeton, a Masters in computer science from Columbia and recently started the website ResearchMatch, which pairs graduate students with professors conducting studies.
Last month she began a programming job at Citigroup in lower Manhattan.
Producers of the spelling bee broadcast have been hesitant to pursue follow up interviews with most other winners, Weinkauf says.
“I would expect the spellers to go on to become politicians or people in big high end jobs,” he says.
“But they turn out to be doctors and lawyers and editors. There are no overly [exciting stories]. For us to come on and say so-and-so is a lawyer is not all that entertaining to me.”
Tonight’s show will instead feature profiles of five current competitors — including Queens eighth grader Arvind Mahankali, who placed third the last two Bees.
“In the home visits presented some challenges this year,” Weinkauf admits.
“Some of the kids aren’t as lively and interesting as you will want them to be. We went out and did a feature on [one girl] and she was painfully shy. But sometimes when they are painfully shy the piece comes out really well.
“I thought hers in particular did because you can see that she is a real person.”
Are you a Rebecca Sealfon fan? Will you watch the Bee this year? Let us know in the comments section below.
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