LeVar Burton joins Scripps National Spelling Bee as host

Dec 15, 2021, 6:01 PM | Updated: Dec 16, 2021, 8:03 am
FILE- LeVar Burton arrives at the Star Trek Day celebration on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, at the Ski...

FILE- LeVar Burton arrives at the Star Trek Day celebration on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Burton has been hired as host of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, giving the competition a celebrity headliner who's also a longtime literacy advocate as Scripps takes over production of the bee telecast. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

(Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

LeVar Burton has been hired as host of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, giving the competition a celebrity headliner who’s also a longtime literacy advocate as Scripps takes over production of the bee telecast.

Burton, who played Geordi La Forge on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and was the longtime host of the children’s educational program “Reading Rainbow,” told The Associated Press ahead of Thursday’s announcement by Scripps that he said yes immediately when approached about the hosting role. Burton comes from a family of educators and said the bee represents “the inspirational, aspirational ideal of education.”

“I want to normalize the pursuit of knowledge in this culture. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it?” Burton said. “Not just making stuff up and calling it a fact. Achievement through knowledge, scholarship, putting in the work to gain the reward.”

Burton described the opportunity as one of many that have come his way since his unsuccessful public campaign to become the permanent host of “Jeopardy!” (He will also serve as grand marshal of the upcoming Rose Parade.) His bid to succeed the late Alex Trebek attracted plenty of goodwill online while the show’s producers were roundly criticized for their decision to hire Mike Richards, who stepped down shortly thereafter when his past insensitive comments were revealed.

The 64-year-old Burton described himself as an above-average but hardly distinguished speller who’s as impressed by the bee winners as any other fan.

He cheered for this year’s champion, Zaila Avant-garde — the first African American winner in the bee’s history — and said the recent dominance of South Asian spellers should also be celebrated. Until this year, the bee had an Indian-American champion or co-champion every year since 2008.

“Zaila was a surprise, and a bit of an anomaly,” Burton said. “I’m big for rooting for the underdog. As an underdog myself, I really identify.”

Burton’s hire comes at a time of transition for the bee, which has undergone several major changes since executive director J. Michael Durnil took over early this year. Scripps announced this fall it has ended its 27-year partnership with ESPN, which brought the bee to millions of viewers and promoted it like a major sporting event.

The bee will air next year on the Scripps-owned networks ION and Bounce and will stream online. According to Cincinnati-based Scripps, those networks are each available in nearly 120 million U.S. households.

Burton’s exact duties as host are to be determined. Various ESPN hosts served as lead announcer for the bee over the years but were only heard on the telecast and had no interaction with the spellers during the competition. Watching the bee on TV is different by necessity from watching it in person because the TV hosts can share with the audience the correct spelling of a word before it’s spelled onstage and analyze its tricky components.

Burton said he expects to serve as a bridge between the kids and the audience and highlight their accomplishments.

“Helping to tell the stories of these kids, that’s something that I know I can bring to the proceedings,” he said.

Other familiar faces from the bee will return in their usual roles: pronouncers Jacques Bailly and Brian Sietsema and head judge Mary Brooks. And the bee will return to its usual venue, a convention center outside Washington, after the COVID-19 pandemic led to its cancellation last year and a mostly virtual format this year, with the in-person finals limited to a dozen spellers at an ESPN campus in Florida.

Scripps plans for the bee to be contested entirely in person during the week after Memorial Day, with more than 200 spellers participating — “back as much to normal as possible,” Durnil said.

“Reading Rainbow” went off the air in 2009, which means the current generation of spellers — kids compete through the eighth grade — grew up without Burton celebrating the written word on public television. However, he has gained some younger fans who’ve discovered his work on “Star Trek” through streaming.

Burton’s name recognition, though, isn’t universal.

Told by the AP that Burton would be the host, Chaitra Thummala, the 2021 runner-up who hopes to compete again next year, was hardly star-struck.

“I think it’s great. I think it’s good to have the bee have some publicity. I think it’ll be fun,” said Chaitra, a seventh-grader from Frisco, Texas. “I don’t know him, I don’t know who he is at all, so I can’t say much on it.”

___

Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - People carry harvested paddy in a rice field on the outskirts of Srinagar, Indian controlled...
Associated Press

ADB to devote $14B to help ease food crisis in Asia-Pacific

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Asian Development Bank said Tuesday it will devote at least $14 billion through 2025 to help ease a worsening food crisis in the Asia-Pacific. The development lender said it plans a comprehensive program of support to help the 1.1 billion people in the region who lack healthy diets due to […]
1 day ago
People walk past a currency exchange bureau in London, Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. The pound today slum...
Associated Press

Pound stabilizes but turmoil continues for UK economy

LONDON (AP) — The British pound stabilized in Asian trading on Tuesday after plunging to a record low a day earlier, as the Bank of England and the British government tried to soothe markets nervous about a volatile U.K. economy. The instability began to have real-world impacts, with several British mortgage lenders withdrawing deals amid […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Kenyan lawyer in ICC case linked to new president found dead

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Police say a Kenyan lawyer facing charges at the International Criminal Court of bribing and threatening prosecution witnesses in a past ICC case against Kenya’s recently elected president has been found dead. Paul Gicheru had pleaded not guilty earlier this year to all eight counts of interfering with witnesses in the […]
1 day ago
Leonid Pasechnik, leader of self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic speaks to journalists as he c...
Associated Press

Live Updates: Russia-Ukraine War

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — KYIV, Ukraine — A planned speech later this week by Russian President Vladimir Putin may see him declare four occupied territories of Ukraine parts of Russia, the British military said Tuesday. In a daily intelligence briefing, the British Defense Ministry said Putin will address both houses of the Russian parliament on […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Kurdish militants attack Turkish police, kill themselves

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Two suspected Kurdish militants opened fire on police in southern Turkey and later killed themselves by detonating suicide bombs, Turkey’s interior minister said. One police officer was killed in the attack while a second officer and a civilian were wounded. The attack was carried out late on Monday in the Mezitli […]
1 day ago
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pakistan's Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari trade...
Associated Press

Washington announces more aid for floods-ravaged Pakistan

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The United States has boosted assistance to Pakistan’s flood relief efforts, announcing $10 million in aid, in addition to Washington’s already announced financial assistance of $56.1 million, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday. Washington is the biggest contributor of aid to cash-strapped Pakistan, which has struggled to provide tents, food and other supplies […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
LeVar Burton joins Scripps National Spelling Bee as host