Karthik Nemmani, was declared champion of the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee, winning on the word “koinonia” and surviving what was arguably the most intense competition in the contest’s 93-year history.
The 16 spellers took the stage at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Centre in Maryland to battle it out for the title of champion on Thursday, May 31st night. “I’m just really happy,” he said moments after his victory. “This has just been a dream come true.”
The 14-year-old emerged the top speller from a record-shattering 515 contestants at the national bee, compared with 291 last year, after organizers expanded eligibility with a new wild-card program. Nemmani also continued a longtime trend by becoming the 14th champion or co-champion of South Asian descent the bee has had in 11 consecutive years, The Washington Post reported.
The top three winners of the contest are of South Asian origin and representing the Dallas region, with Modi and Kodali finishing second and third, respectively. Paluru of West Lafayette, Ind., tied for third with Kodali.
The 16 finalists ranged in age from 11 to 14 and include nine girls and seven boys. The winner of the bee receives $40,000 and a trophy from the Scripps Bee, a $2,500 cash prize (and a complete reference library) from Merriam-Webster, trips to New York and Hollywood. For finishing second, Modi won a $30,000 prize. Kodali and Paluru won a $15,000 prize for taking third place.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee has been around for nearly a century, and if not for a new rule put in place this year, the 2018 champion would not have even been a finalist. An important factor set Nemmani apart from most of this year’s competitors: While some had been on the national stage earlier and others had won regional bees, the McKinney, Texas teen had neither a regional win nor a county win. A wild card entry landed him on the national stage — and he did what he knew best: spell.
Indian American kids accounted for the final six spellers, including Nemmani, Modi, Kodali, Paluru, Navneeth Murali and Sravanth Malla. The five spellers who scored the highest on the test were among the 16 finalists: Nemmani, Modi, Sravanth Malla, 14, of Haverstraw, New York.; Shruthika Padhy, 12, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey.; Aisha Randhawa, 12, of Corona, California.
Entering the finals, Shruthika Padhy, a 12-year-old from Cherry Hill, N.J., was considered the favorite by many. However, Padhy, who tied for 22nd place in 2016 and tied for 7th in last year’s bee, was bounced from the competition at 12th place when she misspelled “paillasson.”
According to reports, Nemmani, who was competing at his first national bee, displayed the poise of a veteran, seeming to sail through his words: “condottiere” (knight or roving soldier available for hire), “miarolitic” (of igneous rock), “cendre” (a moderate blue), “ankyloglossia” (limited normal movement of the tongue), “grognard,” “passus,” “shamir” (tiny worm capable of splitting the hardest stone) and “jaguey” (an East Indian tree).
When it was down to two contestants, him and 12-year-old Naysa Modi, Nemmani remained calm as Modi misspelled “Bewusstseinslage”. He then knocked out “haecceitas” (the status of being an individual) before receiving the word that would clinch his win: “koinonia”, meaning the Christian fellowship or body of believers.
Earlier, Nemmani, of McKinney, Texas, had finished third in the regional spelling bee in the Dallas area, finishing behind Modi, 12, of Frisco, Texas, and 11-year-old Kodali, of Flower Mound, Texas. “I had confidence but I didn’t really think it would happen,” he said. “I’m just really happy, this is a dream come true.”
Adam Symson, president and CEO of The E.W. Scripps Company, presented the championship trophy to the winner. “Karthik showcased not only broad knowledge of the English language but also incredible poise under pressure,” said Symson of Nemmani, an 8th grader at Scoggins Middle School. “This is a grueling competition that takes years of preparation and then challenges the participants all week long. Karthik handled it with grace and maturity. The Scripps National Spelling Bee is a national treasure, and we take great pride each year in seeing the inspiration it brings to audiences across the U.S. – and the world.”