Spelling bee champ Zaila Avant-garde gets a real-life assist from Bill Murray on Kimmel

Zaila Avant-garde might be America’s most accomplished 14-year-old. Not only is she the reigning Scripps National Spelling Bee winner, she’s also the holder of three Guinness World Records for basketball. She appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” with guest host comedian Phoebe Robinson Wednesday night and showed off both her spelling and dribbling skills, and got a surprise from Bill Murray, who previously made an unexpected appearance during the spelling bee.

Avant-garde’s final word in the bee was “Murraya,” a genus of tropical trees. When she was trying to figure out how to spell it, she asked the judges if the word contained the name Murray, “which could be, like, the name of a comedian.” The judges didn’t confirm that Bill Murray was in there, but she got it right anyway. 

On “Kimmel,” Phoebe Robinson asked Avant-garde if her family were big Bill Murray fans. She explained that the only Bill Murray movie she’s seen is “Lost in Translation,” which she watched with her dad, and she remembered his name from that. She also said that she’s been practicing her basketball skills since she was 5. 

“I want to adopt you, but I think I would lead you down the wrong path,” Robinson said. 

Next, Robinson had Avant-garde play a game called “Bee Ball,” where the young champ dribbled and spelled at the same time. First, she dribbled three balls at the same time while spelling “Machiavellian,” doing both flawlessly. Next, she dribbled six balls while spelling “amaryllis” – and she corrected Robinson’s pronunciation before she did it. 

Then, Bill Groundhog-Day, Ghostbustin’-ass Murray showed up via Zoom from his hotel room in France. He told Avant-garde that he was very happy for her win, and coincidentally, he spelled her name correctly the other day, too. He challenged her to dribble three basketballs while balancing on a foam roller and spelling the word “portmanteau.” She nailed it, of course. 

And then Avant-garde received her prize: a full scholarship to Sports Academy, a training complex. Not that she needs it. 

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