In an unprecedented finish, the 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee was one for the ages, ending in an eight-way tie.
South Asian youngsters continued their domination of the annual bee. Seven of the eight co-champions are Indian Americans.
The winners, who dubbed themselves “octo-champs,” were: Rishik Gandhasri of San Jose, California; Saketh Sundar of Clarksville, Maryland; Shruthika Padhy of Cherry Hill, New Jersey; Sohum Sukhatankar of Dallas, Texas; Abhijay Kodali of Flower Mound, Texas; Rohan Raja of Irving, Texas; Christopher Serrao of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey; and Erin Howard of Huntsville, Alabama.
After three days of winnowing the 550 contestants in Washington DC, by the time they reached 17 rounds, only eight spellers remained. The eight spelled all the words correctly through the next two rounds. Never before had so many remained this late into the contest.
With victory in sight for the final eight, all were up to the task. Co-champion Gandhasri spelled auslaut; Howard spelled erysipelas correctly; Sundar spelled bougainvillea correctly for his victory; Padhy became the next co-champion spelling aiguillette correctly; Sukhatankar spelled pendeloque before doing his victory walk back to his seat; Kodali spelled palama correctly to redeem his third-place tie in 2018 with a co-championship; Serrao spelled cernuous to win his title; and Raja spelled odylic correctly to wrap up the bee on a high note.
“Champion spellers, we are now in uncharted territory,” bee pronouncer Jacques Bailly told them in announcing the decision to allow up to eight winners. “We do have plenty of words remaining on our list. But we will soon run out of words that will possibly challenge you, the most phenomenal collection of super spellers in the history of this competition.”
Although there’s a rule that no more than three co-champions could share the spelling bee crown, organizers felt the final eight were so well prepared that winnowing them down even further would be fruitless and declared the remaining eight co-champions.
“When we began to comprehend the mettle of our finalists, we began to think about what could possibly happen this evening,” said Paige Kimble, the bee’s executive director. “We went into the evening with the plan that we executed on this evening.”
By winning the bee, each of the winners will receive a $50,000 cash prize; an engraved Scripps National Spelling Bee trophy; reference library from Merriam-Webster; and $400 of reference works from Encyclopedia Britannica.
Dating back to 2008, spanning 12 bees, a total of 21 Indian Americans have been declared champions or co-champions, according to India West.
The prowess of Indian Americans in spelling bees in recent years can be attributed to the spelling bees held in the South Asian American community, which some say, are more competitive than the Scripps contest and the use of professional coaches to prepare for the rigors of the spelling contest.
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