WASHINGTON — Ananya Vinay showed little emotion until she finally let a smile slip and lifted the Scripps National Spelling Bee trophy.
The 12-year-old from Fresno, California, won the spelling competition Thursday night after numerous rounds against Rohan Rajeev. They were the last two standing of the initial 291 spellers.
“I just focused on my word and tried to spell it right,” she said.
The winning word was “marocain,” which is a dress fabric that is made with a warp of silk or rayon and a filling of other yarns.
After she was proclaimed the champion, she rocked side-to-side, barely smiling until her dad rushed to hug her. As the rest of her family joined her, the new champ finally let her happiness show.
“It’s a like a dream come true. I am so happy right now,” she said.
Ananya was crowned the winner of the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee held in Oxon Mill, Maryland, a suburb of the nation’s capital. She spelled 35 words correctly.
She is taking home a $40,000 grand prize and plenty of bragging rights.
Still holding the trophy, the Golden State Warriors fan wished her team good luck in the ongoing NBA finals. “Go Curry,” she said in an ESPN interview.
A nerve-racking final
Round after round, 15 of 291 spellers in the competition battled for the top prize during Thursday’s final.
This year’s favorite, Shourav Dasari, an eighth-grader from Texas, surprised the audience. In a move that showed his confidence, he spelled “mogollon” and he quickly turned around to walk to his seat. It was a few rounds later that he stumbled on the word “struldbrug” and placed fourth in the competition.
Mira Dedhia, an eighth-grader from Illinois finished third. She was aiming to become first the child of a previous competitor to win. Her mother, Lekshmi Nair, competed in 1988, 1989 and 1990.
After 12 hours of competition, only two contestants were still in the running. Ananya and Rohan, an eighth-grader from Edmond, Oklahoma, went head to head for almost 20 rounds.
“It was interesting to go back-and-forth for so many rounds,” she said.
They looked confident as they spelled their words through the night until Rohan looked down, shaking his head. He took the second place when he failed to spell the word “marram,” (a type of coarse perennial grass).
Ananya is the first outright winner in a while. For each of the past three years, the bee ended in ties after the contestants successfully completed the competition’s entire list of words.
Last year, Jairam Hathwar of New York spelled “feldenkrais” (a method of exercise therapy) and Nihar Janga of Texas spelled “gesellschaft” (social relations held together by impersonal ties), giving them a joint title.
To end that scourge of ties, the spelling bee introduced a written “tiebreaker test” this year. If there was a tie at the end of the bee, the speller with the better score on the written test would have been named the champ.
This year’s highlights
Earlier during bee week, the star of the event was 6-year-old Edith Fuller, who became the youngest contestant at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The precocious home-schooled student from Oklahoma correctly figured out “tapas” and “nyctinasty,” but she failed to make the competition’s finals.
As with any intense competition, the bee was full of rapidly swinging emotions. Erin Howard, a sixth-grader from Alabama, offered a plea to the judges before receiving her word.
“OK, you really have to give me a word I know right now. Really,” she said.
She got “apparentement,” or an alliance of French political parties formed during an election.
“I’m sorry, did you misunderstand my request?” she said.
No matter. She got the word right and advanced to the finals of the competition.
But it was the word “klydonograph” (an instrument that makes a photographic record of electric surges in power lines) that got her eliminated. She placed 11th in the competition.