Fourteen-year-old Harini Logan won the Scripps National Spelling Bee last Thursday, defeating 12-year-old Vikram Raju in a tie-breaker. It’s the first time the contest has ever been decided by a tie-breaking round of spelling.
A spelling bee is a contest where players take turns spelling words. Players who spell a word wrong are out of the contest. As the contest goes on, the words get more difficult. Normally, the contest ends when there’s only one player left who hasn’t made a mistake.
This was the first time the Scripps spelling bee has been held in person since 2019. It was canceled in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, most of the contest was held over the internet.
This year, over 230 people won spots at the national contest. By Thursday night, only 13 students were still in the bee. The words this year were extremely difficult, even early on. One student got out in the first round on the word “coulrophobia”, which means a fear of clowns.
Though the bee is mainly about spelling, since 2021 it has changed slightly to also focus on the meaning of the words. During parts of the contest, students were asked to choose the correct meaning of a word.
That caused trouble for Harini. She was asked about the meaning of the word “pullulation”. She said the word described the nesting of birds. The contest organizers had expected the answer the “swarming of bees”. Harini was removed from the contest.
But soon she was back in – the judges double-checked and learned that Harini’s definition was also correct. One by one, the other students spelled a word wrong and got out. Finally, only Harini and Vikram were left.
The Scripps bee has been running for over 90 years. In that time, it has ended in a tie between two people six times. But in 2019, the bee ended with an 8-way tie. After that, the contest organizers changed the rules. They added a “spell-off” to the contest to make future ties much less likely.
In the spell-off, Vikram and Harini each took turns trying to spell the words they were asked, but both made mistakes. At one point, Harini could have won by spelling the word “drimys” (a kind of plant) correctly. But she missed it.
That put the two into a super tie-breaking event, where they were each given 90 seconds to correctly spell as many words as they could. The New York Times reports that the two spelled so quickly that the judges needed to review the video to see who had won.
In 90 seconds , Vikram had spelled 15 words correctly. Harini had 21 correct spellings, making her the new winner.
This was Harini’s fourth – and last – year in the bee, and it’s the first time she’s made it to the finals. Describing her win, she said, “This is just such a dream!” For winning the contest, Harini earned $50,000, as well as winning other prizes.
For coming in second, Vikram took home $25,000. But he says he’ll be back again next year.
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