WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe correctly spelled so many words Thursday that the Scripps National Spelling Bee had to declare them both winners.
Why? Because there weren’t enough words left on the competition’s list for them to keep facing off until only one was left standing.
In the bee’s final round, Hathwar, 14, an eighth-grader from Painted Post, New York, correctly spelled the word “stichomythia” — dialogue especially of altercation delivered by two actors.
Sujoe, 13, a seventh-grader from Fort Worth, Texas, correctly spelled the word “feuilleton” — part of a European newspaper.
It’s the first time the bee has ended in a tie in more than 50 years. The last time there were co-champions was in 1962, organizers said. Ties also ended the bees in 1950 and 1957.
“It feels pretty good because not only do I get the victory, but I get to share it with someone else, so it means a lot to me,” Sujoe told CNN’s “New Day” on Friday.
Hathwar called the English language “brutal” because it incorporates words from other cultures and languages.
“So it was really a competition against the dictionary, and not against Ansun or any of the other competitors,” he told CNN.
The two quickly garnered praise from high office, with President Barack Obama tweeting his kudos: “Congrats to Ansun and Sriram, the incredible co-champs of the #ScrippsNationalSpellingBee. You make us all proud! -bo”
In this year’s national championship, 281 spellers from eight countries competed for the title. The contest started Tuesday and finished Thursday night with the finals broadcast live on ESPN.
Sujoe told ESPN that he got hooked on the bee by watching it on television. In addition to spelling, he has perfect pitch and plays piano, bassoon and guitar.
“I was pretty happy when I made the finals, and now I’m even happier that I’m a co-champion,” Sujoe said.
Hathwar, who placed third in last year’s competition and first made it to the National Spelling Bee as a second-grader in 2008, was a favorite to win this year’s contest.
The youngest competitor this year was 8. And the oldest was 15, organizers said.
Even students who didn’t walk away with a trophy seemed excited about their next steps.
Tejas Muthusamy, 11, said he’d return home ready to change his studying routine for future competitions.
“Now I’ll prepare more for the finals, and try to go through more esoteric words,” Muthusamy said, minutes after misspelling “hallenkirche” got him kicked out of the competition.
Eighth-grader Kate Miller, who struck out in the finals when she misspelled the world “exochorion,” said there’s a lot she’ll be bringing back to Abilene, Texas.
“I will take home with me a suitcase full of happy memories, great friends and a true feeling of acceptance,” she told ESPN.
And she didn’t hesitate when asked what her next move would be.
“I don’t need to study spelling anymore, and I don’t really need to sleep anymore,” she said. “So I’m going to go home and watch every horror movie on which I can get my hands.”