Ananya Vinay, a 12-year-old Californian, today won the Scripps National Spelling Bee competition after a tense final in Washington. For her victory, the youngster took home a $40,000 cash prize.
After twelve hours of juggling and playing with A-B-C-D and A-E-I-O-U, the bright young sixth-grader disarmed a rival eighth-grader from Oklahoma, Rohan Rajeev, 14, by spelling “marocain,” which is a dress fabric made of warp of silk or rayon and a filling of other yarns, correctly.
The rivals had correctly spelled words, including “cheiropompholyx,” “urchkomponiert,” and “tchefuncte,” as each waited for the other to falter. Vinay got a boost when Rajeev spelled the seemingly easy, but obscure word “marram” wrong. The meaning for “marram” is beach grass in Scandinavia. Ananya calmly nailed two words in a row, ending on “marocain,” reported The Washington Post.
For the first time since 2013, the bee finally declared a sole champion. After three straight years of ties, the tiebreaker round had been introduced this year. Even as it looked like the tiebreaker would need to come into play, Ananya defeated Rohan after battling for 21 out of the allotted 25 championship rounds.
Ananya is the 13th consecutive Indian-American to win the bee and the 18th of the past 22 winners with Indian heritage; a run that began in 1999 with Nupur Lala’s victory, which was featured in the documentary “Spellbound.” Like most of her predecessors, she honed her craft in highly competitive national bees that are limited to Indian-Americans; the North South Foundation and the South Asian Spelling Bee. She didn’t, however, win either one.
According to the spelling bee blog, Vinay’s favorite word is “spizzerinctum,” which means ambition to succeed. Another of her favorite words is “philomel,” a word that means nightingale. It comes from the tale of a princess who was turned into a nightingale.
“It motivates me,” said Vinay. “I hope I get a word I know and I just keep going.”
Competitors aged six to fifteen emerged from early spelling bees involving more than 11 million youths from all 50 US states, US territories from Puerto Rico to Guam, and several countries from Jamaica to Japan.
Maggie Sheridan, 13, from Mansfield, Ohio, threw up her hands in disbelief when she learned she correctly spelled “whirlicote,” a type of luxurious carriage, with one second to spare.
Marlene Schaff, 14, was ousted by misspelling “cleidoic,” which means to be enclosed in a relatively impervious shell, such as an egg. “
I’m disappointed because I was debating between two spellings,” said Schaff of Lake Forest, Illinois. The youngest-ever competitor, Edith Fuller of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who turned 6 in April, was eliminated from the competition last week.
There is something special about Indian-Americans winning this title back to back for 13 years, and some have even tried to study the reason behind this spectacular success rate. According to a 2016 BBC post, the selection of the parents who immigrated to the US is perhaps the most important factor. Many of these parents have extremely high levels of educational attainment themselves, as over a third have postgraduate degrees and another one-third have college degrees. About 90 percent of their degrees are in technical fields, with the vast majority in engineering. So, the parents of these bright kids are highly educated and value education. They are hungry for success and strive to be a visible part of the mainstream and set an exceptional precedent.
Ananya’s parents and brother stormed onto the stage to embrace her as the confetti fell. Last year, Ananya fared well enough on the bee’s written spelling and vocabulary test to make the top 50, but she tripped on a relatively easy word, “multivalent,” on stage. “She panicked. It was not a hard word,” said her father, Vinay Sreekumar. “I think she learned from that and she consciously worked on it, how you shouldn’t panic, just focus on the word.”
[Featured Image By Mark Wilson/Getty Images]