Apologies for a three-days-late post. On Thursday, the 90th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee concluded with as dramatic of a finale as ever. There were some record-setting statistics, too. There were only 40 finalists announced for Thursday morning, the lowest number since the institution of the Preliminaries Test over a decade ago. However, there was a record high number of nighttime finalists; 15 spellers participated in the prime time conclusion of the Bee on ESPN, whereas the previous highest number of championship finalists had been 13. The Bee finally ended after more than three hours of competition on Thursday night, much of which was a duel between Ananya Vinay of California (the eventual winner) and Rohan Rajeev of Oklahoma. Finally, Rohan missed "marram" and Ananya spelled "gifblaar" and "marocain" to secure the title. Ananya is a very deserving speller who clearly worked incredibly hard, as is Rohan. There were, however, many other spellers (many of them eighth graders) who also worked intensely for years and years and just couldn't win because in the end, there can only be one (or sometimes two or three) winner(s).
Siyona Mishra of Florida won the national South Asian Spelling Bee in 2016 and tied for 9th place at Scripps in 2015. Going into the competition, she was seen as a favorite, but was eliminated in the fifth round by the word "Corriedale," arguably the hardest word given in the entire morning portion of the finals. Rutvik Gandhasri was eliminated by "auteur" in the fourth round; he spelled its homonym, "hauteur." As soon as Rutvik voiced the H, the entire audience seemed to let out a collective sigh, as Rutvik was considered something of a favorite for the competition. Dr. Bailly did not specify that the word was a homonym. Approximately 10 spellers walked together to the back of the ballroom to appeal Rutvik's elimination, but his appeal was denied since he had been provided with the definition of the word. A couple rounds and several more eliminations later, the remaining spellers were declared nighttime finalists.
As the night finals started, myself and everyone around me began to feel nervous for the fifteen spellers who were about to compete for the title. There were too many people to root for, and we knew even before it began that that night would hold some heartbreaking eliminations. A row in the Maryland Ballroom began to fill up with former spellers and spellers who had been eliminated earlier in the week. It was so packed in this row that not everyone had a chair, but the spelling soon began and we forgot our lack of space. Many other favorites were eliminated after several rounds. Tejas Muthusamy placed 8th at Scripps in 2014, 7th at Scripps in 2015, and 22nd at Scripps in 2016 (although this seemed to be a product of bad luck, he says he knew all the words in the 2016 competition except for two, one of them being "salele," the word he received in Round Four). Tejas came away from this week's bee ranked in fifth place, and general consensus seems to be that he is one of the best spellers to never have won. A similar phenomenon occurred to Rutvik's elimination--as soon as he replaced the second "s" in "saussurite" with a "c"--the entire audience sighed in sorrow for the end of Tejas' four-year Bee career. Shourav Dasari, the 2015 South Asian Spelling Bee champion and 11th place finisher in the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee, was another favorite. He placed fourth after an incredible run involving both suspenseful clutch moments and amazing displays of confidence. He received the word "Mogollon" in the twelfth round. He spat out the letters in under five seconds and was halfway back to his seat before head judge Mary Brooks could confirm that he was correct, earning him a standing ovation (he got another one later on, too, when he was eliminated by the word "Struldbrug.")
Alex Iyer of San Antonio had become a crowd favorite earlier in the day, due to his ecstatic reactions when he spelled correctly. In the ninth round, Alex received "savate" and quickly spelled it as "savat," ending his run, although he says he knew many of the words after his elimination. He tied for seventh, though, which is certainly an incredible finish. Sreeniketh Vogoti, after tying for seventh last year, was eliminated in the first round of night finals. He received the tricky "clafoutis" and made a good guess--clafoutie--but a good guess in the spelling bee, unfortunately, doesn't keep you in unless it's completely correct. As more and more spellers were eliminated, the people in our row found them. congratulated them, and invited them to sit in our row and watch the rest of the finals with us, which did nothing to help how crammed we were, but it was enjoyable to have these people with us nonetheless. By the end of the bee, there was about three people for every two seats in the row. As the final duel between Rohan Rajeev and Ananya Vinay unfolded, we all watched with bated breath, and when Ananya emerged victorious, the ballroom filled with the cheers of the entire audience.
The Bee is always great to watch, and this year was no exception. Congratulations to everyone who competed!