“This is just such a dream,” she said, holding the trophy on national television.
Vikram stood nearby with his family, visibly trembling and his head bowed with the high emotions of the three-hour contest.
But when the Bee’s host, LeVar Burton, asked Vikram if he would return to the Bee next year, in what would be his own last eligible year, the boy, shaking but sounding resolute, gave a decisive “yes.”
It was the first time the Bee has used a spell-off since the national contest’s inception, in 1925, and it came after Harini and Vikram took turns spelling a series of words incorrectly, meaning a winner could not be crowned. To viewers, the pressure of the moment felt akin to penalty kicks in a high-stakes soccer tournament.
“Watching that spell-off, you got a real sense of the actual work of preparing for the Bee,” said Kory Stamper, a lexicographer and the author of “Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries.” The spellers, she said, had spent months with “rapid-fire spelling over the dinner table, during car pool, after school. You could really get a sense of the daily work. So impressive.”
Harini managed to spell more words than more than 200 other competitors at the national level, including 12 other finalists. Words in the final rounds included scyllarian, pyrrolidone, Otukian and Senijextee, reflecting how, over nearly a century of national spelling bees, the words have become increasingly esoteric.