Venkat Ranjan wins National Geographic Bee Indian Americans Sweep Top Three Prizes

Indian American wiz-kids dominated this year’s National Geographic Spelling Bee held in Washington, D.C., on May 23rd taking home the top three honors. An eighth-grader from California, Venkat Ranjan beat nine other finalists to take home the title at the 30th annual National Geographic Bee on May 23 by correctly answering “Paraguay.” The question was: Which South American country has a population size most similar to Lebanon?

That response edged him past Anoushka Buddhikot of New Jersey, who incorrectly answered Guyana. Vishal Sareddy, 14, of Suwanee, Georgia, an eighth-grader at Riverwatch Middle School.

As the national champ, Ranjan will receive a $50,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society and an all-expenses-paid Lindblad expedition to the Galápagos Islands aboard the National Geographic Endeavour ll. Buddhikot an eighth-grader at Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School in New Jersey, the second place winner, will receive $25,000 college scholarship. Vishal Sareddy, the third place winner will take home a $10,000 college scholarship.

This year, apart from the top three winners, five Indian-Americans were among the Top 10 finalists. Other championship finalists included Indian and South Asian Americans Nihar Janga, 13, of Houston; Gayatri Kaimal, 13, of Arizona; Atreya Mallanna, 11, of Massachusetts; Saket Pochiraju, 13, of Ohio; and Ashwin Sivakumar, 13, of Oregon. Sean Cheng, 14, of New Hampshire, and 14-year-old Jonathan Song of North Carolina.

Ranjan, who has been competing in the bee since 2015, also enjoys playing piano, the National Geographic reported. Buddhikot also enjoys reading and playing the violin and hopes to one day write a novel about a National Geographic-style explorer.

In recent past, Indian American kids have been taking home the top honors at this prestigious national contest.  Last year, Pranay Varada of Irving, Texas, won the title, after finishing at sixth place the previous year.

Nearly 2.6 million students in the fourth through eighth grades competed in more than 10,000 schools across the country on their knowledge of geography and world affairs in this year’s 30th bee hosted by journalist and humorist Mo Rocca. The contestants were competing for a total of $85,000 in college scholarships. Students had to answer such questions as whether a map of the U.S. shows homelessness or the literacy rate, the range of the black bear or a pon-derosa pine, and ferry boardings versus minimum wage.

In a test of their analytical and communication skills, contestants were asked to choose one of three rivers as the best choice to focus a plastic cleanup effort to reduce the amount of waste going into the ocean. All three finalists chose China’s Yangtze River, explaining that the area’s high population and plastic consumption and limited collection and recycling infrastructure, made it the prime target.

During the competition, students had to answer such questions as whether a map of the U.S. shows homelessness or the literacy rate, the range of the black bear or a ponderosa pine, and ferry boardings versus minimum wage, National Geographic explained in a news release. Contestants were asked to name the U.S. state capital on the Pearl River, Sweden’s largest island, and the currency of Denmark, it added.

After stiff competition, 54 finalists rose to the top, representing winners of each state and overseas territories of the United States. The 54 competitors were reduced to 10 by May 23. Each of them will receive $500. Buddikot was among four girls out of the 54 finalists, with news reports and experts saying that schools and parents should do more to deal with the gender imbalance.

“All of you have demonstrated an impressive commitment to geography and maps, and today we’re rewarding that commitment,” National Geographic Society chair Jean Case told the audience at the event. At National Geographic, “we consider ourselves map geeks,” Case added. “But we understand geography is about so much more than just memorizing places on a map.”

Since the bee started, some 120 million students have participated with more than 90 scholarships doled out totaling $1.5 million to date. “The bee goes right to the heart of what we are all about here at National Geographic,” said Case. “We are about furthering understanding of the world and the people in it. We live in an ever-connected world.”

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