- After a grueling 18 rounds and tie-breaker, the San Antonio eighth-grader claimed the coveted title by correctly spelling 21 words in the spell-off, besting the 15 by Vikram Raju of Denver, Colorado.
The last few rounds of the Scripps National Spelling were S-T-R-E-S-S-F-U-L, to say the least. After a grueling 18 rounds and a historic spell-off, Texas teen Harini Logan emerged winner of the Scripps Cup at the 94th edition of the Bee in Washington, D.C. She won by correctly spelling 21 words in the spell-off, besting the 15 by Vikram Raju of Denver, Colorado. Vihaan Sibal of McGregor, Texas, placed third in the competition.
Not only did Harini register one correctly spelled word every 4.1 seconds during the first spell-off in Bee history, she also made the most of the second life she got during the dreaded word meaning round after she was reinstated for choosing the right answer for pullulation.
The eighth-grader from San Antonio was all smiles as she received the coveted trophy, $50,000 in cash and prizes. “This is surreal,” she said. “Feels like a dream,” she said of her fourth and final performance at the Bee. Admitting that she was “uneasy” at first, she said he decided to “take it in stride.”
However, Vikram looked visibly disappointed with his second-place win. Fighting back tears, he promised to attend the Bee next year as well, as his mother consoled him. In the four days of the competition, the seventh-grader demonstrated a deep knowledge of words with Greek roots.
His tears were proof of the tense few rounds he and Harinijust went through, after correctly spelling “charadriiform” and “coracidium” in round 13. But their nerves got better of them as the two teenagers misspelled the words in consecutive rounds, as the dreaded buzzer kept ringing, word after word. Harini had an opportunity to claim the crown with correct spelling in Round 16, but she missed the word “drimys.”
After being deadlocked after 18 rounds, the Bee went into its first ever spell-off where the two spellers each got 90 seconds to spell as many words correctly as they can. Harini spelled a total of 26 words, out of which she got 21 right, while Vikram correctly spelled 15 out of a total of 19.
The June 2 finals began with an unprecedented move. Surya Kapu, who was reinstated as a finalist on June 1, joined the 12 top sellers by correctly spelling “schlager,” a style of European popular music. After the 13-year-old from South Jordan, Utah, misspelled “leucovorin” — a medicine used to counteract the side effects of a cancer drug — during the last semifinal round, his family successfully appealed that he was denied relevant root information about a word.
Eleven of the 13 finalists were Indian Americans, while the other two – Aliyah Alpert of Scottsdale, Arizona, and Kirsten Santos of Houston, Texas – were the youngest competitors at age 11. Spelling bees are known to be brutal, with words getting tougher and tougher as the participants begin to drop. Through all the rounds, contestants demonstrated their poise and expertise, at times taking deep breaths and using fingers as imaginary pencils to correctly puzzle out each assigned word. As the competition began to dwindle down to the final few spellers, many kids left the stage in disappointment after hearing the dreaded buzzer, signaling their error.
However, it was the word meaning round that stumped most contestants. The multiple-choice round 9 that tested their knowledge of word meaning began with Eight spellers, but only four survived. On social media, the round was heavily criticized for being unfair. It’s a spelling bee and not trivia many noted and many suggested eliminating the round.
The Bee began on May 31 with 234 spellers at the National Harbor in Maryland for the national rounds of competition and the first fully in-person Bee since 2019. Semi-finals and finals were hosted by actor, director, educator and lifelong children’s literacy advocate LeVar Burton.
For over a decade, Indian American kids have been ruling the national spelling bee circuit and claiming the championship trophy. Scripps National Spelling Bee data shows that 27 of the last 35 winners were of Indian origin.
However, that dominance ended last year, when Zaila Avant-garde, a 14-year-old from Harvey, Louisiana spelled her way to win the 2021 competition, becoming the bee’s first African American champion.
In 2019, eight children — seven of them Indian Americans — were declared co-winners at the coveted bee. Rishik Gandhasri, 13, of California; Saketh Sundar, 13, of Maryland; Shruthika Padhy, 13, of New Jersey; Sohum Sukhatankar, 13, of Texas; Abhijay Kodali, 12, of Texas; Christopher Serrao, 13, of New Jersey, Rohan Raja, 13, of Texas; and Erin Howard, 14, of Alabama — closed the bee with 47 correct spellings in a row in a final that went into 20 rounds. That was the first time that more than two co-champions were named in the national bee.