WANNA- BEE CHAM­PI­ONS

Herald Sun - Switched On - - COVER STORY -

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

/ REBECCA MICHAEL

Grant Denyer with Hanna and Thomas.

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