Last night, at the end of the final round of the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, a record eight students were still standing, having calmly rattled off the correct spellings of words like psammosere, choumoellier, and Logudorese. The eight—Rishik Gandhasri, Erin Howard, Saketh Sundar, Shruthika Padhy, Sohum Sukhatankar, Abhijay Kodali, Christopher Serrao, and Rohan Raja—now share the title of co-champion. It’s a confusing result in a competition that usually crowns one individual champion, or—as has been common recently but rare historically—two.
Scott Remer, the author of Words of Wisdom: Keys to Success in the Scripps National Spelling Bee and the spelling coach of two of last night’s co-champions, Padhy and Serrao, explained to me just after the competition came to a close why the final round resulted in an eight-way tie. According to Remer, preposterous as it may seem to the average spellers among us, last night’s words were simply too easy, and America’s top spellers are just too good.
It should not be underestimated, Remer said, how truly wild an eight-co-champion result for the National Spelling Bee is. “Ordinarily, people get out,” Remer said with a laugh. “Ordinarily, people misspell words, sooner or later down the line initiating a round where you only have three [or fewer] spellers remaining.” At which point the rules change: In the first round in which only one speller has spelled a word correctly, that speller must also spell the next word on the official word list correctly to win the bee. But before last night’s 92nd annual bee could even get there, Remer said, “the kids exhausted the word list” while eight kids remained in the competition.