Ananya Vinay, one of the youngest finalists in the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee competition, won the prestigious championship on June 1 taking home a $40,000 cash prize after 12 hours of picking her way along a precarious lifeline of consonants and vowels. The winner, said of her composure, “I just focus on my word and try to spell it right.”
The 12-year-old Indian American sixth grader at Fugman Elementary School in Fresno, Calif., showed extreme poise in correctly spelling “marocain,” defined as “a dress fabric that is made with a warp of silk or rayon and a filling of other yarns and is similar to but heavier than canton crepe,” in the 36th round to beat Rohan Rajeev of Edmond, Okla., also an Indian American student.
“It’s like a dream come true, I’m so happy right now,” said Vinay, who in her free time imagines stories that she has not written down yet, and loves watching movies and playing with her younger brother.
Vinay battled one-on-one against Rajeev for 19 rounds before the runner-up tripped up on the word “marram,” spelling it “marem.” Vinay followed up by correctly spelling “gifblaar” and “marocain” to win the title.
“It was intense,” Vinay said of the back-and-forth with Rajeev. “It was interesting to go back and forth for so many rounds,” she added. Much like her route to victory, Vinay was seemingly unfazed by winning. When it was announced she correctly spelled the word to win the title, the youngster remained standing with a stoic look, barely smirking until her family rushed the stage to congratulate her and as confetti streamed down.
Said Vinay’s father Vinay Sreekumar of her win, “I’m really excited and happy to see she won. She deserved it,” but added, “It’s not a surprise for me. She worked hard for it.” Sreekumar went on to say that his daughter “came here to win and knew she could do it.”
Vinay said that she felt the words she got were easy to spell. Her mother Anu Poliyedath said of her daughter, who has a passion for spelling, “I’m proud she was so confident.”
Also in attendance rooting for Vinay, whose favorite word “spizzerinctum” means ambition to succeed, was her grandmother, who traveled from India to watch live. She also had family and friends in India and California watching and supporting on TV.
Vinay and Rajeev were the last two standing when Mira Dedhia, a 13-year-old eighth grader from Western Springs, Ill., and the daughter of bee participant in 1988 through 1990 Lekshmi Nair, failed to spell “ehretia” in Round 16.
The Indian American ended up placing third in the competition. The win for Vinay comes in her second appearance at the bee. In 2016, Vinay, who says she considers spelling a sport, tied for 172nd place when she misspelled “multivalent.”
Along the way, Vinay beat out 291 finalists, 75 of whom were Indian American or South Asian Americans, from May 30 through June 1 in Washington, D.C., as well as the more than 11 million spellers who began the competition.
Going into the final day of the competition, Indian Americans accounted for roughly 25 of the 40 remaining spellers. When the finale began as part of an ESPN primetime broadcast, 15 spellers remained, including 13 Indian Americans: Rohan Sachdev of Cary, N.C.; Shrinidhi Gopal of San Ramon, Calif.; Tejas Muthusamy of Glen Allen, Va.; Sreeniketh Vogoti of Saint Johns, Fla.; Saketh Sundar of Elkridge, Md.; Raksheet Kota of Katy, Texas; Naysa Modi of Monroe, La.; Shourav Dasari of Spring, Texas; Alex Iyer of San Antonio, Texas; and Shruthika Padhy of Cherry Hill, N.J., as well as the top three finishers. Erin Howard of Alabama and Alice Liu of Missouri were the other spellers.
“Ananya proved her depth of knowledge of root words and word origins to master round after round of some of the most challenging words in the English language,” said chairman, president and chief executive officer of the E.W.
Scripps Company Rich Boehne, who awarded Vinay the championship trophy. “The entire week was an impressive showcase of talented students who have dedicated so much time and effort to this skill. They exude commitment and true grit. Scripps takes great pride in serving as steward of the nation’s largest and longest-running educational event.”