For a serious event, the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee has had more than its fair share of hilarious moments over the years.
Take the meme-worthy aloofness of 2013 winner Arvind Mahankali, who upon securing his victory almost seemed oblivious to the news. Or the awkward interview with 2007’s Evan O’Dorney. There was also contender Andrew Lay’s averted disaster in 2009 and 2008 champion Sameer Mishra’s initial bewilderment over the word “numnah.” (Yes, it sounded like “numbnuts.”)
Last night, for the 88th time, America’s best and brightest spellers lined up on the national stage to vie for the year’s championship. And for the second consecutive year, it ended in a tie. Both students were so adept at spelling that the competition ran out of items to test them on from the “25-word championship section.”
The final round included the words “pipsissewa,” “pyrrhuloxia,” and “hippocrepiform.” (For the record, as I stare at a draft of this article, my spellcheck recognizes none of these.) They were far cry from 1940’s winning word—“therapy”—but as the Valerie Miller, a spokeswoman for Scripps told me, “As the spellers up their game, so does the Bee.”
Vanya Shivashankar, 13, and 14-year-old Gokul Venkatachalam were this year’s co-champions. Gokul, with his Lebron James quotes and nonchalant confidence, was a hit on social media. He spelled his final word—“nunatauk”—correctly without inquiring into its definition or language of origin, taking fewer than five seconds to utter: “N-u-n-a-t-a-k. Nunatak.” Vanya was reserved in comparison but still emitted a quiet confidence throughout. Her final word? “Scherenschnitte.”
America should rename Merriam-Webster to Shivashankar-Venkatachalam English Dictionary. #spellingbee— Anup Kaphle (@AnupKaphle) May 29, 2015
Over the years the Scripps Spelling Bee has become a greater part of the nation’s pop culture. Much of this can be attributed to ESPN’s quasi-sporting-event coverage of the competition, which this year began with the slam poet J.Ivy delivering a spoken-word presentation about the allure of the bee. The poem was replete with sports allusions such as “the muscle of the mind.” Last night’s event also included funny skits and even a shoutout to the rapper Drake, something the Toronto rapper was happy to share via his Instagram.