The Scripps National Spelling Bee, our favorite sport, began this week with dozens of the smartest young spellers from all around the country competing for the crown. So what's it like to be one of those competitors getting on stage to spell a word most of us have never heard of? The people behind the scenes of the Bee tried to provide a speller's perspective.

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The first round of the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee, which is a 45-minute test of vocabulary and spelling that the 281 competitors complete on computers, took place on Tuesday. The first onstage televised rounds begin Wednesday and the championship rounds will be televised on May 30.

The memories, former competitors told NPR can be life-changing.

Karla Miller, who competed in the national bees of 1984, 1985 and 1986, told NPR that she still has to turn away when she sees the Bee on television. "It was a very intense experience. I had never been through something like that," Miller said. "You're on a stage in front of people, and now you're on TV and the Twitterati, and all these people watching you, waiting for you to make a mistake."

Another former competitor, Srinivas Ayyagari, told NPR that he went on to win thousands on Jeopardy (along with going to Harvard and then Penn for law school). "The lights were incredibly bright and that sort of changed the dynamic about it," Ayyagari told NPR. "Seeing someone from ESPN commenting on your style and strategy was bizarre and weird. But it's the closest I'll ever come to being an athlete."

Related Story: Spelling Bee Champions And Winning Words

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