OXON HILL, Md. — The Scripps National Spelling Bee is set to crown a champion, with 11 finalists gathering Thursday night in a convention center ballroom outside Washington to demonstrate their mastery of Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged dictionary.
The bee has undergone many changes as a result of an eight-way tie in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic, which wiped it out a year later. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the skill and dedication of the top spellers in the English language.
The typical workload for a top-level speller: 3-4 hours of studying each weekday, and more on the weekends. And yet they still find time to excel in other disciplines – 14-year-old finalist Charlotte Walsh of Arlington, Virginia, just completed an Advanced Placement calculus course – as an eighth-grader.
The bee began in 1925 and is open to students through the eighth grade. Spellers qualify by winning regional bees around the country. There were 229 kids onstage at the beginning of this year’s competition.
Most of this year’s finalists are Indian American, continuing a trend that has lasted for two decades. Twenty-one of the past 23 champions have had South Asian heritage.
Thursday’s winner will receive more than $50,000 in cash and prizes. Champions typically go on a media tour and make a series of appearances throughout the year as the face of the bee. Many end up returning to the bee in other roles, including as part of Scripps’ word selection panel.
Vanya Shivashankar, a 2015 co-champion, has been involved in the bee telecast ever since and this year was promoted to the role of master of ceremonies – a task that last year fell to “Star Trek” actor and literacy advocate LeVar Burton.
The bee had co-champions from 2014 to 2016 before the “octo-champs” of 2019, but ties are impossible under the current rules. If the contest reaches the 1-hour, 55-minute mark without a winner, the remaining spellers will compete in a lightning-round tiebreaker.
Surya Kapu, a 14-year-old from South Jordan, Utah, is the only returning finalist. He finished tied for fifth last year.
The youngest remaining semifinalist is 11-year-old fifth-grader Sarah Fernandes of Omaha, Nebraska, who is four months younger than the youngest winner on record, Nihar Janga, a co-champion in 2016 at age 11.
Shradha Rachamreddy, a 13-year-old from San Jose, California, comes in with arguably the strongest spelling resume, having won several highly competitive online and in-person bees that spellers use to prep for Scripps. She’s one of four finalists from California, along with 14-year-old Vikrant Chintanaboina, also from San Jose; 12-year-old Dhruv Subramanian of San Ramon; and 14-year-old Arth Dalsania of Camarillo.
The other finalists:
– Dev Shah, a 14-year-old from Largo, Florida.
– Aryan Khedkar, a 12-year-old from Rochester Hills, Michigan.
– Pranav Anandh, a 14-year-old from Glen Mills, Pennsylvania.
– Tarini Nandakumar, a 12-year-old from Round Rock, Texas.
Ben Nuckols has covered the Scripps National Spelling Bee since 2012. Follow him at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols
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