I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can
While watching a horror movie show hosted by Boobarella (the show's take on Cassandra Peterson's Elvira character), a commercial plays for the Ribwich, a new Krusty Burger sandwich in which meat from an unknown animal is processed and molded into the shape of ribs. Homer cannot wait for it to come to Springfield. Homer samples the Ribwich, recently arrived at the Krusty Burger in Springfield, and becomes addicted.
The next day at a school assembly, Principal Skinner announces that the school is holding a spelling bee. Lisa is excited when she wins the school spelling bee, for which she is awarded a scale model of the planet Mars (a kickball with the word "Mars" written on it). She continues to the state spelling bee, and wins again, qualifying her for the Spellympics to be held in Calgary.
Marge suggests they celebrate by going to a movie, but Homer says he has "important daddy business" — which turns out to be eating Ribwiches with Lenny and Carl. Unfortunately, when they arrive at Krusty Burger, the limited-time-only Ribwiches are no longer in stock. Homer is shattered, but a "Ribhead" (a fan of the Ribwich) tells him that it is being tested in other markets and shows him a tour schedule. Homer decides to follow a group of Ribheads as they track the release of the Ribwich.
At the Spellympics, hosted by George Plimpton, Lisa wins the semi-finals and secures a spot in the finals. The other two finalists are Sun Moon, a Korean girl, and Alex, a cute little boy with big round glasses and a speech impediment who proves to be extremely popular. Plimpton takes Lisa aside and tells her that if she lets Alex win, she will be given a free scholarship to any Seven Sisters college—and a free George Plimpton hot plate ("it's perfect for soup!"). Lisa is torn between wanting to win the Spellympics and free college.
That night, Lisa dreams of an ancient Greek setting in which the anthropomorphized Seven Sisters try to lure her to their colleges. She wakes up and asks Marge whether they can afford to send her to college. Marge is unsure, but promises to do whatever it takes to get Lisa into college. Despite Marge's reassurances, Lisa is still uneasy since she is aware of how low Homer's salary is and how unlikely Marge's hopes are.
In San Francisco, Krusty informs all the Ribheads that the Ribwich can no longer be made, as the animal from which it is made is now extinct. He tosses the last one into the crowd. Homer catches it, fighting off the others. An Italian Ribhead offers Homer the "lease-a" to his car for the last Ribwich, and Homer remembers Lisa and the Spellympics. He agrees to the trade and takes off in the car.
At the Spellympics finals, Lisa steps up and is asked to spell "intransigence". She is about to start, when Homer shows up and shouts encouragingly at her. Lisa, happy to see her father, tells everyone that she was told to take a dive, but then unintentionally misspells her word. Lisa loses, and since she did not do it on purpose, Plimpton rescinds his offer.
On the way back to Springfield, Homer tries to cheer up Lisa when she admits that she let down everyone in town. However, she finds that in coming second she has become Springfield's most successful native ever (even outachieving the Springfield woman who once dated Charles Grodin). In her honor, the town carved Lisa's face on the side of a mountain.
A lengthy scene at the beginning of the show where Bart rushes to do everything he planned on doing during summer vacation was cut for time. The scene was later placed in the opening of the season 17 episode "The Monkey Suit", which aired three years later.
The sequence where Homer becomes addicted to the Ribwich is a parody of the Darren Aronofsky film Requiem for a Dream (2000). Boobarella, who appears at the beginning of the episode, is an obvious parody of Elvira, the seductive gothic character portrayed by Cassandra Peterson. While opening the school, Principal Skinner sings a parody of "School's Out" by Alice Cooper. The song played during the Spellympics and during the credits is "I Put a Spell on You" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins. The song played at the beginning of the Spellympics finals is "Get Ready for This" by 2 Unlimited. This song was also played in the episode "Homer and Ned's Hail Mary Pass" and "To Surveil with Love". The song played during the TV ad for the Ribwich is a parody of "Like a Rock" by Bob Seger, which is best known as Chevrolet trucks theme music through most of the 1990s. The title of the episode is a reference to the 1981 book I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can, by Barbara Gordon. The stairs Lisa runs up are similar to the Rocky Steps. A reference to AC/DC is made when Otto asks Lisa to spell AC/DC and she spells it A-C-D-C, but after she finishes, Otto says "you forgot the lightning bolt" (referring to the band's logo). Homer following the Ribwich around with the Ribheads is a play on 'Deadheads,' fans of jam-band music (the Grateful Dead in particular) who follow the band when on tour in order to see multiple concerts. At one point, Krusty the Clown says "what a long strange product rollout it's been". This is a reference to the famous line "what a long strange trip it's been" in the Grateful Dead song "Truckin'". The Ribwich is a parody of McRib and its promotions. The Spellympics rings feature the acronym A.E.I.O.U, which is related to the House of Habsburg among other things.
In 2011, Keith Plocek of LA Weekly's Squid Ink blog named "I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can" the second best episode of the show with a food theme, commenting: "Spelling bee, schmelling bee. The star of this 2003 episode is the Ribwich, an obvious nod to McDonald's McRib."
- Jean, Al (2006). The Simpsons season 9 DVD commentary for the episode "Lisa's Sax" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Ditum, Nathan (June 6, 2009). "The 50 Greatest Simpsons Movie References". Total Film. Retrieved 2011-08-30.
- Groening, Matt (2007). The Trivial Simpsons 2008 366-Day Calendar. Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-123130-4.
- Plocek, Keith (2011-11-11). "Top 10 Simpsons Food Episodes: Tomacco Ribwich with a Side of Guatemalan Insanity Peppers + Skittlebrau". Squid Ink (LA Weekly). Retrieved 2011-11-12.
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