Last night, if you didn’t watch nerdy teens annihilate each other using sheer brainpower and determination, you really made a huge mistake. Because the live finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee were a suspenseful, gut-churning, anxiety-inducing roller-coaster ride of anguish, perseverance, incredulity, and dispassionate accomplishment.
As an aside: It should be noted that the final six competitors were all Indian American; this thread by NPR’s Gene Demby drawing parallels between bees and the NBA is a great read.
But back to the competition. Things got really heated when there were just four spellers left: Rohan Rajeev (Oklahoma), Shourav Dasari (Texas), Ananya Vinay (California), and Mira Dedhia (Illinois).
Most of the spellers were taking their time, asking for definitions, pronunciations, and word origins. But Shourav, feeling confident and cocky, did a “drop the mic” moment on “Mogollon” (a prehistoric American Indian people inhabiting the mountains of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico):
His mother did not appreciate that. And 20 minutes later, Shourav was out, tripped up by a controversial word, Struldbrug.
Unfair? Perhaps. But if it’s in the dictionary, it’s fair game.
The next to be eliminated was Mira.
Then there were two: Rohan and Anaya. She, a full two years younger.
And the words kept getting more and more intense.
Ananya and Rohan volleyed for 40 minutes, and the words just got more and more obscure and bizarre.
Finally, at 11:25pm, after spelling all day, 8th grader Rohan made his first mistake:
Ananya spelled two more words:
And spelled them both, correctly. She was declared the winner and was immediately attacked by her father, who knocked her little glasses off.
Her mom and little brother also joined her on stage.
“I knew them all,” she said.