It’s about time somebody made a wacky TV show about how bonkers spelling is. Enter comedian Guy Montgomery and his Guy Mont Spelling Bee.
The three years since Covid-19 began have been pretty rocky, but one of the best things to come out of the chaos was Guy Montgomery’s Guy Mont Spelling Bee. One comedian’s humble lockdown idea to bring joy to his mates is now bringing joy to an entire country, with Montgomery’s Zoom spelling contest evolving into a primetime game show. Spelling Bee forces local comedians to face the terror of spelling words on national television, and not a funnier show has hit our screens this year.
Each week, Spelling Bee challenges four brave comedians to reveal their spelling prowess to the nation. Comedians like Urzila Carlson, Angella Dravid, Hayley Sproull, Courtney Dawson and Abbey Howells are tasked with spelling tricky words like “cerebral”, “NBA” and “Adam Parore”, with nowhere to hide if they fail. The scoring stays low but hopes are always high, and after five nonsensical rounds, the comedian with the most points earns a one way ticket to next week’s episode. The loser, however, is forced to wear the dunce’s cone of shame.
A dunce cap might sound mean, but there’s no shame on Spelling Bee. This show reminds us that spelling is a great leveller, because no matter how good a speller you think you are, there’s always one word that will make you rage like David Correos trying to spell “haemoglobin”. We can’t judge Chris Parker for misspelling “chimney” or Josh Thomson for getting “kaleidoscope” wrong, because we struggle to spell them too. Words are tricky, so thank goodness for Spelling Bee, the show that celebrates our grammatical mediocrity like no other.
Spelling Bee cheerfully chucks the rules out the window, so forget those spelling tests you had at school and don’t worry about that “i before e, except after c” rubbish. Spelling Bee features wonderfully ridiculous rounds like “Spell Like a Six Year Old” and “Invent a Word”, rounds where spelling things correctly is of no help whatsoever. “Spell The Audience Name” sees the comedians try to spell the names of random audience members, while “Hard Words for a 13 Year Old” sees a panel of teenagers join the spelling panel. Every episode is refreshingly unpredictable and chaotic, proving that sometimes a bit of linguistic creativity can take you a lot further than knowing “bassoon” has two s’s.
If you like Taskmaster, you’ll love Spelling Bee. It has the same affectionate silliness and high energy, and it’s a treat to see the comedians take a bonkers game so seriously. “I’m stressed out,” Guy Williams announces before he spells a single word. “I’m so nervous, I’m going to vomit,” Brynley Stent wails. Spelling Bee takes these comedians far out of their comfort zone, into a frenetic world where “guitar” and “burglar” are the only things standing between spelling shame and glory.
Ultimately, everyone has a good time on Spelling Bee – including Montgomery’s deadpan sidekick Sanjay Patel, who brings a delicious awkwardness to the show. The retro set gives off a charming walk-shorts-and-socks vibe, and words like “waka rererangi” and “tino rangatiratanga” create a uniquely Aotearoa flavour. Montgomery delights in never having to prove his own spelling ability, and there’s plenty of good-hearted banter between host and contestants. “What’s the origin of ‘camouflage’?” Audrey Porne asks him in episode four. “The jungle,” Montgomery replies.
There’s no other show like Spelling Bee on our screens. It’s a joy to see a fun, frenetic show about letters and language on prime time telly, and fingers crossed we get a celebrity Christmas special where Suzanne Paul has to spell “luminous spheres”. This is a format that could work around the world, and a show that deserves every success. In a world filled with worry and fear, Guy Mont Spelling Bee offers a few precious moments of gleeful escapism. And if you can spell “escapism”, all the better.
Guy Montgomery’s Guy Mont Spelling Bee screens on Thursdays, 7.30pm on Three, and is available to stream on ThreeNow.
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