Spelling Bee Champs: Where Are They Now?

David Tidmarsh savored his time in the spotlight after winning the 2004 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Tidmarsh, who was 14 at the time, received stacks of mail from around the world, shook hands with President Bush, and played an unscripted gag on David Letterman's show.

As Letterman tested the champ's spelling skills, Tidmarsh pretended to faint. Let it be known that Tidmarsh was not the speller who actually fainted on stage -- that was the 2004 runner-up, 13-year-old Akshay Buddiga.

In an unrivaled moment of spelling bee drama, Buddiga was mulling the word "alopecoid" -- meaning vulpine, like a fox -- when he wavered and suddenly fell to the stage in a heap.

A gasp arose from the crowd. Had the pressure gotten too much for the boy? After all, his brother, Pratyush, had taken home the 2002 crown for spelling the word "prospicience," meaning foresight. They would be the first sibling champs in the history of the bee.

Unbelievably, Buddiga rose from the ground a moment later and successfully spelled the word.

"After I got back up, I didn't really care about spelling it anymore. I just wanted to get it over with," Buddiga said.

Paige Kimble, the director of the National Spelling Bee and the 1981 champ, said of Buddiga's fall: "That was the most amazing moment I saw in a bee."

Kimble has her own spelling bee comeback story. In 1980, she lost the championship to Jacques Bailly on the word "glitch," a fault or defect in a system or machine. The next year, she returned and redeemed herself, emerging victorious with the word "sarcophagus," the stone container where a coffin and mummy are placed.

She later got a license plate inscribed with the word "GLITCH."

When the Buzz Fades

Spelling bees weren't always cool, as the 1971 champ, Jonathan Knisely, pointed out in the 2002 Oscar-nominated documentary, "Spellbound."

"I don't think [winning] really helped me in my love life -- my nascent love life. I mean, something like that could be considered something of a liability."

For today's winners, the post-bee buzz can be heady.

Anurag Kashyap, who was 13 when he won the title last year, reportedly received a marriage proposal from a classmate when he returned to his California middle school.

George Thampy, the 2000 champ, said of his victory, "I would describe that moment as dizzying euphoria."

Thampy returned home to St. Louis, where he said, "It seemed like everyone [there] knew me."

Thampy later appeared in "Spellbound," and in just a brief time on screen, he made an impression. Staring into the camera, he spelled out his three-point plan for victory. "One: Trust and believe in Jesus. Two: Honor your parents. Three: Hard work."

Six years later, 18-year-old Thampy is in Washington, D.C., working at this year's National Spelling Bee. He predicts a great competition. "It's like the big game. … And all the chips are on the table," he said.

Next year, the ambitious Thampy is off to Harvard. "I was very proud to have set a goal and accomplished it," he said of winning the bee. "It really helped give me a lot of self-confidence."

There's also Rebecca Sealfon, the 13-year-old home-schooled girl from Brooklyn, N.Y., whose unique performance secured her place in spelling bee history. Sealfon, the 1997 champ, screamed out each letter in the word that won it for her -- "euonym," an apt name.

Sealfon recently graduated from Princeton University and is working on her doctoral degree. In December, she wrote an article in the Brooklynite magazine about a biweekly hipster spelling bee held in a popular Brooklyn bar.

It seems Sealfon has mellowed. She writes in the article: "I sit at a small candlelit table in the back room, glad to be out of the fray. Once upon a time, I took spelling very seriously. I used to rise before dawn to study roots and word lists. In 1997, when I was 13, I won the National Spelling Bee championship. Now, I sit back and watch."

In a testament to her enduring popularity, the TV show "South Park" even modeled a character named Rebecca Cutswald on her in an episode called "Hooked on Monkey Phonics."

David Tidmarsh, who dreamed of being a spelling bee champ in third grade and read the dictionary each day to make it happen, is now a 16-year-old high school student in South Bend, Ind.

He'll sometimes flip through the dictionary, but he has other diversions these days, like acting in his school's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

He said the transition from instant celebrity back to regular teenager wasn't so painful.

"I got used to the anonymity again," he said.

The spelling bee elder statesmen had a few words of advice for this year's up-and-comers: "Stay calm. … And keep it simple."