Josephine Kao at the 2008 National Bee
Sure, she may know her appoggiatura from her serrefine, but can she accurately address a letter to Dancing with the Stars' Maksim? On the eve of her fourth trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, 8th-grader Josephine Kao of Sacramento shared a peek inside her spellbinding world, and then dared to tackle some of TV's "toughest" names. (ABC's coverage of the Scripps National Spelling Bee finals, hosted by Dancing man Tom Bergeron, airs Thursday at 8 pm/ET. SportsCenter's Chris McKendry oversees coverage of the semifinal rounds earlier that day, from 10 am to 1 pm, on ESPN.)
TVGuide.com: What do you typically do the last few days before the national bee? Do you keep cracking at the books, or "get away" from it all?
Josephine Kao: I try to do both. One kid I know said he stayed up until 5 a.m. yesterday morning, but I try to study just a little. The rest is just relaxing and getting ready.
TVGuide.com: Which of your past eliminations gnaws away at you most? What was the word?
Kao: The hardest one for me was last year, when I misspelled sphendone. I just felt bad because I had studied it before, and I could have done better. But I got over it, and I'm happy now.
TVGuide.com: Does the Scripps National Bee ever offer up any rule changes?
Kao: They haven't made rule changes much lately, but they have format changes every year. So this year there's a different process where 80 percent of the spellers will be eliminated by [Wednesday] night.
TVGuide.com: If you could make any one rule or format change, what would it be?
Kao: There would be no bell! It wouldn't be a spelling bee if it wasn't the way it was, but the bell sounds kind of bad. After a while, I developed a dislike for the bell, so it's sort of annoying to me.
TVGuide.com: I'm going to run some TV star names by you, starting with Will & Grace actress Megan Mullally. How do you spell Mullally?
Kao: Megan Mullally... I have no clue. Is there a language of origin?
TVGuide.com: Oh, I'm not going to be able to help you out with that. I'm on a budget here.
Kao: Gee, thanks! M-U-L-L-O-L-L-Y.
TVGuide.com: Close, but there's an "a" in there. What about model-turned-actress Rebecca Romijn. Her last name (pronounced like "Romaine") is perhaps Nordic in origin. Or maybe it's Russian...?
TVGuide.com: So close! It's I-J-N. But I'll give you credit. How about 24 star Mary Lynn Rajskub (pronounced RICE-cub). There's a J in it, I'll give you that.
Kao: OK.... R-E-I-S-J-U-V?
TVGuide.com: Nope. What about Dancing with the Stars hunk Maksim Chmerkovskiy?
TVGuide.com: Almost — it starts with a "C," and there's an "I" before the "Y." Now, this is your last Scripps Spelling Bee, right? They put you out to pasture after this?
Kao: Yeah, yeah...
TVGuide.com: Do you worry about going through withdrawal, or will you be glad to have it behind you?
Kao: Both. I'm kind of relieved, but at the same time it's kind of sad. I make lots of friends, and it's always fun!