WANNA- BEE CHAMPIONS
Put Grant Denyer and some young contestants in a small room and chaos soon follows.
When Switched On arrived for our interview with The Great Australian Spelling Bee host, a group of contestants and their siblings, the excitement was so overwhelming that one of the participants threw up. And no, it wasn’t Denyer.
“It was a really early start for them,” laughs Denyer of the morning’s events.
“Plus, because I’m so tall and intimidating, sometimes it’s a little too much for some.”
However, being a dad of two has made him match fit for conditions such as these, he says. It’s also made him appreciate the benefits that the show has had, not just for those taking part, but for those at home.
“Making rock stars out of smart kids and celebrating literacy and intelligence is such a wonderful thing to do,” he says.
“We get a lot of feedback from schools and teachers who have said, ‘Thank you, you’ve made our job so much easier because kids want to spell again’.”
Both Denyer and his co-host, Chrissie Swan, say that working on a show which, in Swan’s words “heroes the nerdy kid” has been an invaluable experience. And it’s one that they couldn’t wait to start working on for season two.
Despite getting rave reviews last year, Spelling Bee faced a few key problems that saw it soften in the ratings, particularly when it came to the end of the series.
But, say the pair, Channel 10 has listened to that feedback and adjusted the show. As such, they promise fans will be excited by the revitalised format — and they hope it echoes in those crucial nightly numbers.
In addition to moving to the much more family-friendly timeslot of 6.30pm on Sundays, producers have made each episode less busy in order to allow the stars to really shine.
“When we made (season one) it was chockablock full of different challenges, but what we weren’t prepared for was how warm, how funny, how compassionate, how competitive and how fun the kids were,” says Denyer.
“Last year we didn’t have enough room to squeeze all that in and this year we very much do.
“We’ve upsized the best challenges but left room so you can fall in love with the kids and see how courageous, crazy and just extraordinary they are.
“If you ever wonder about the future of the planet, you’ve only got to watch this show to realise we’re in very good hands.”
And having met four of those kids — Zeke, Thomas, Hanna and Charlie — we can vouch for the fact that this season’s spellers are set to win hearts in homes across the nation.
The current batch of contestants also come to the show with an advantage: they’ve seen the show before.
“They know what they’re in for and they know that it’s not the end of the world if they don’t make it to the end,” says Swan.
“They know they’re going to make friends, that they’re going to be treated like kings and queens, and so they’re a lot more relaxed. They have a lot of fun and there’s a lot less pressure.
“We have a secret Facebook group where we all keep in touch. They’re all having play dates because they make friends for life, it’s gorgeous.”
With strict laws in place regarding children in the workplace, it’s possibly the most stress-free show either host has worked on.
In addition to the children having chaperones at all times, there are enforced hourly breaks to avoid fatigue, and late start and early finish times.
“All the breaks and the care and respect make for a really relaxed shoot,” says Swan. “From a TV perspective it’s really civilised, I love it.”
But Denyer is quick to add that it doesn’t mean there aren’t some hairy moments.
“I would confidently say I’m more on my toes with the kids on Spelling Bee than the contestants on Family Feud,” he says.
“They’re really smart kids and just when you think you know what they’re going to say, they switch it up.”
THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN SPELLING BEE, CHANNEL 10, SUNDAY, 6.30PM
“Celebrating literacy and intelligence is such a wonderful thing to do”
ON SPELLING BEE
Grant Denyer with Hanna and Thomas.