National Spelling Bee Champ Wins With 'Marocain'

Kristen Corley

On June 1, sixth-grader and Californian Ananya Vinay won the 2017 Scripps 90th Annual National Spelling Bee, clinching her victory with the word "marocain," a French word for a ribbed crepe dress fabric.

For nearly 20 rounds, she and Rohan Rajeev, an eighth-grader from Oklahoma, were at a dead tie. The Scripps judges had finally moved to a tie-breaker challenge in an effort to produce a winner. Then, Rohan stumbled over "marram," leaving out the second R and giving Vinay her shot at victory.

She asked for the definition, part of speech, language of origin, and for a word repeat. After a moment of hesitation, she blasted through it, and the crowd erupted in celebration.

CNN described Vinay as showing "little emotion" after her victory, but the 12-year-old says she was in shock. "It was like a dream," Vinay said to New York Times Friday, recounting her win. "It was like I was there, but watching it."

"It was interesting to go back-and-forth for so many rounds," she added.

Her mother, father, and little brother stormed the stage to envelop her and helped her lift the trophy up above her head. She had beaten out 291 contestants and 11 million applicants for national recognition, $40,000, a $2,500 savings bond, educational books, and Kindle.

It was a victory she had studied two hours a day for a year to earn. It was also the first sole victory in three years. Since 2013, the Scripps National Spelling Bee has ended in a tie. This year, planners added a tie-breaker portion to settle the score.

Vinay had reached the national stage the year before, but stumbled over "multivalent" and placed in the top 50 in previous spelling bee competitions. This year, father Vinay Sreekumar said she learned not to panic.

On Friday, Vinay made the rounds on news networks and talk shows, appearing on Good Morning America, Today, New Day, and Live with Kelly and Ryan.

New Day host Chris Cuomo teased Vinay by asking her to spell "covfefe," the typo Trump tweeted Monday morning that turned into a meme. She guessed "cofefe."

Vinay is the 13th Indian-American in a row to win the National Spelling Bee, and the 18th Indian-American to win it since 1999, when Nupur Lala clinched her victory. She was considered a surprise victory; eighth-grade Texas student Shourav Dasari was considered the favorite, but placed fourth.

ESPN commentator and former spelling bee competitor Paul Loeffler said he anticipated Vinay's victory. "I knew how driven she was and determined to get here, and she's obviously shown the mental capacity to pull this off," he said.

Earlier in the competition, much attention was given to kindergartner Edith Fuller, a home-schooled 6-year-old from Oklahoma. She was the youngest contestant ever to qualify, and made it through two rounds with "nyctinasty" and "tapas."

However, when she did not score high enough on a written exam, she was disqualified, and reportedly burst into tears upon receiving the news. Afterwards, however, Edith cheerfully said she had fun at the competition.

Illinois eighth-grader Mira Dedhia finished third after incorrectly spelled "ehretia," which she said she had never seen before. "I just thought I would give it a guess and see what happens," she said. It was her second visit to the national stage.

The daughter of a former spelling bee champion, Dedhia had hoped to make history as the first victor descended from a victor, but said she was ecstatic with her third-place win. "This has been a goal of mine since I was 10 years old, so it was definitely worth all of the hard work," she said.

[Featured Image by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]