OK, she probably can’t tell you who the Biggest Loser is or the latest favorite American Idol.
But here’s betting Emma Peasley can read ’em both under the table.
The Sussex School seventh-grader breezed through 13 challenging words Thursday, capped by confident spellings of two German doozies – streusel and umlaut – to win the 2014 Missoula County Orthography Bee, aka the county spelling bee, at Sentinel High School’s Margaret Johnson Theater.
Now it’s on to Billings for the state bee March 22, along with runner-up Matthew Miller, a sixth-grader from Hellgate Middle School, and eighth-grader McKenna Stricker of Meadow Hill.
Stricker won a spell-off for third place with Bradie Strauch of Washington Middle School, another seventh-grader.
There’s nothing mysterious about her spelling acumen, Peasley noted afterward.
“I’ve always really loved spelling. I like to read a lot, so I pick up words easily,” she said.
She studies French, but the last two very German words did not snag her any more than the Russian-to-Yiddish “knish” or the Japanese “tatami” in earlier rounds.
Peasley’s parents, Sandy and Andy Peasley, shed a little more light on their daughter’s success, attributing it to what Mom called “a weird upbringing.”
Emma, 12, spent ages 6 through 8 living on a boat with her parents, sailing from Seattle to New Zealand and back to San Francisco.
“Ever since she was really little she’s never had TV, so she’s read a lot, and I think that’s the difference really,” Sandy Peasley said. “It’s interesting. We always thought, ‘What is she going to be like if she doesn’t have the television going.’ She doesn’t even know. It’s what you get used to. We miss it more than she does.”
Stricker and Strauch dropped out in the seventh round, leaving Peasley and Miller to duel it out. Each was flawless for the next four words, Peasley reeling off “vogue,” “suave,” “bravura” and “teriyaki” and Miller mastering “howitzer,” “omnipotent,” “hygiene” and “impasse.”
“Streusel” came up for Peasley in Round 12 of the two-hour contest that began with 41 spellers from greater Missoula. It’s a crumbly mixture of fat, sugar and flour, and sometimes nuts and spices, used to, say, sprinkle on coffee cake. She eviscerated it.
Miller’s next word was his and Peasley’s longest of the day: homogeneous. He paused to deliberate near the end.
“I was debating between whether or not there is or should be an ‘e’ there,” Miller said.
He went with not – which, face it, at least half of the American public would have as well.
That left Peasley just one word from the win.
“Umlaut” – those two little dots over a German vowel to “indicate a change … caused by partial assimilation to a succeeding sound” (thank you Merriam-Webster) – popped into Peasley’s head as soon as pronouncer Kathleen Magone said it.
She didn’t need a sentence or a definition.
“I’ve known that word for a long time, actually,” Peasley said. “I don’t know why. I guess it just stuck in my mind.”
There is some German in her blood, courtesy of grandma Helen Peasley of Missoula, who was there with Sandy and Andy to bask in the glow of Emma’s victory. Emma competed in the two previous county bees, finishing eighth and seventh as Lolo’s Sam Person made off with first place both years.
Person, Missoula’s first three-time winner, is in high school now and, in Peasley, Missoula will send just its fourth non-eighth grader in the past 14 years to Billings as county champ.
Miller was an “e” away from flawless in his first trip to the county bee. He won the Hellgate school bee and his sixth-grade class bee, and two years ago won the school bee as a fourth-grader.
“So this isn’t really a foreign subject to me,” he said, taking his success in stride. “I don’t know, it’s an experience that was just waiting to unfold.”