The broadcast begins with Charles Kingsley, the tuxedo-wearing moderator, welcoming the audience to the Whiz Kids Southwest Ohio Regional Competition. He explains the quiz rules and adds that the winning team will travel to Washington, D.C. for the national championships in two weeks. The first teams to face off are Woodland Elementary and Spaulding. Mr. Kingsley singles out Melody to introduce her to the audience, explaining that accommodations have been made for her to sit while other participants stand. Melody feels sweaty when the lights and cameras point her way.
Mr. Kingsley reminds the participants that they are being tested on accuracy, not speed. Melody answers biology, history, and vocabulary questions correctly but fails to answer a math question. The lead bounces back and forth between the two teams, and Melody is usually stumped by math questions. After the team correctly identifies the Richter scale as a measurement system for earthquakes, Spaulding Street Elementary advances to the next round.
Melody and her teammates wait in the backstage greenroom while the other teams eliminate each other. Mr. Dimming congratulates Melody and expresses how significant it would be for him to finally take a team to the Washington finals. Eventually it is announced that Perry Valley has earned eighty-two points—one more point than Spaulding; this means they will face each other in the final round.
Both teams take the stage. Mr. Kingsley announces that tonight’s winning team members and their chaperones will receive an all-expenses-paid three day trip to D.C., a huge golden trophy, a guest appearance on Good Morning America, and a two-thousand dollar check for their school to spend on academic endeavors. Questions are more difficult in the championship round. Only Claire fails to identify “diplopia” as double-vision. Perry Valley maintains a lead for most of the round. Melody is relieved when her entire team correctly identifies synesthesia as a condition that leads a person to hear colors and visualize flavors. The scores are tied at eighty-two before the final question, a math question involving a series of additions and subtractions. Melody and her team answer correctly, while one of their competitors gets it wrong.
Spaulding Street Elementary is announced as the team that will move on to the national finals in D.C. Melody kicks and screams with joy. Blue dots dance in front of Melody’s eyes as the reporters’ flashbulbs go off. Elizabeth Ochoa of Channel Six News interviews the winning team, moving from student to student with her microphone, asking them their name and age. Ms. Ochoa asks Connor what it is like to have a very special team member, referring to Melody. Connor nearly introduces Melody, but she answers for herself, surprising Ms. Ochoa with her ability to speak through the Medi-Talker. Ms. Ochoa questions Melody about the difficulty of training, and Melody says that she had many people to help her prepare. Seeking the camera’s attention, Claire interrupts to claim that she and Melody have lunch together and test each other; Claire adds that Melody is smarter than she looks. Rose raises her hand to protest, but Ms. Ochoa cuts the broadcast off, saying they are out of time. Melody is stunned by Claire’s lie.
To celebrate, Mr. Dimming offers to take the team to Linguini’s restaurant. Melody is hesitant, but her teammates convince her to join. To access the restaurant, Melody’s teammates and their parents dash up the five stone steps, leaving Melody and her mother in the cold. Connor’s father finds a waiter, who tells Melody’s mother that there is no wheelchair ramp. He says they have an elevator in the back, but it is currently broken. Luckily Melody is in her manual chair. Melody’s mother spins her around and, with great effort, pulls her slowly up the steps.
At the table, Melody watches her teammates joke around; she tries to look as though she is also having fun, but in truth, she would like to go home. When the food arrives, Melody is self-conscious to eat her macaroni. At school, she is always fed by aides in a special cafeteria—she realizes her teammates have never seen her eat. Her food grows cold. Eventually, she asks her mother to spoon-feed her, and Melody is careful not to spill. The rest of the table goes quiet and stares at their plates.
After asking to have her food packed up for later, Melody notices that Claire has barely eaten. During dessert, Elena asks Claire about suddenly being Melody’s best friend. Claire says she doesn’t feel well, vomits on Mr. Dimming’s new shoes, and runs to the restroom. Melody wonders if Claire feels as embarrassed as she had while being fed. When Claire returns from the restroom, people pretend nothing has happened, which Melody considers strange, given how they all looked at her sideways as she ate. Everybody leaves the restaurant, waiting first for Melody and her mother to slowly descend the five steps. Melody is still hungry.
The relish with which Mr. Kingsley introduces Melody to the audience indicates that he likely believes he is making Melody feel recognized and included; in truth, the special attention he lavishes on her further isolates her as an object of curiosity. She perspires when the cameras and lights are pointed her direction—a physiological response that showcases her discomfort at being singled out.
Having won the first round, Mr. Dimming says that it would be personally significant for him to finally take Spaulding Street Elementary to the finals; the admission suggests that Mr. Dimming is immaturely and inappropriately conflating his own ego with the performance of his students. This characterization foreshadows Mr. Dimming’s eventual disregard for Melody when the team boards their flight without her.
Ms. Ochoa’s decision to ask Connor about Melody, and her surprise when Melody speaks for herself, reflect the reporter’s ableist bias and touches on the motif of “normal” people doubting Melody’s intelligence based on her physical appearance. In a moment of profound irony, Claire claims that Melody is her close friend, even though Claire’s attitude toward Melody has been consistently abominable. Claire’s faux display of friendship emphasizes the superficial nature of the entire exchange with the reporter: truth is sacrificed for the sake of a heartwarming narrative.
The difficulty Melody and her mother encounter when trying to get into Linguini’s demonstrate not only the inconsiderate and ableist design of public space, but also the oblivious attitude of Melody’s teammates and teacher who enter the restaurant without noticing that she is left in the cold. The moment foreshadows how the team will eventually fly to Washington without her. Similarly, the silent stares Melody receives in the restaurant while eating and the amount of time it takes to leave the restaurant will later serve as excuses for not having invited Melody to breakfast on the day of the flight.
In contrast to the tidy and self-conscious manner with which Melody eats, Claire’s sudden sickness leads her to vomit in the middle of the dining room. The scene presents an ironic juxtaposition: the same people who had stared at Melody as she ate are willing to pretend that the mess Claire made never happened.