July 19, 2024

The Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday came down to its second-ever spell-off, a fast-and-furious tiebreaking round that rewards speed as much as accuracy. Given 90 seconds to spell as many of the announced words as possible, Bruhat Soma and Faizan Zaki, the two remaining spellers after 14 rounds, stood tense over a blue buzzer as they flew through words difficult to comprehend even at conversational speed.

When the results were tallied, Bruhat — a 12-year-old from Tampa, Fla. — came out on top with a superhuman total of 29 correct words, seven more words than the previous spell-off winner in 2022. As the confetti fell from the ceiling, Bruhat smiled widely, held the trophy high above his head and shook hands with Faizan.

If you weren’t able to watch the finals on Thursday night, here are three takeaways.

The difficulty of the finals was immediately apparent: The first speller onstage, Rishabh Saha, misspelled “desmotrope,” a chemistry term. As an eighth-grader, Rishabh will not be eligible to compete in the 2025 Scripps Bee.

The schwa — the “uh”-like sound that can be represented by any vowel in the English alphabet — tripped him up, much like it did for several spellers in 2023. He added an “a” in place of the first “o.”

Shrey Parikh also fell to the schwa with the word “kanin,” a kind of boiled rice used in the Philippines. He spelled it as “kanan.” Shortly after, Ananya Prassanna misspelled “murrina,” a word of Spanish origin, as “marina.”

YY Liang got tripped up by “immanent,” a homonym of “imminent,” and was the second to be eliminated. Kirsten Santos was taken out next by another homonym, “apophasis,” which she spelled “apophysis.”

The 13th round featured several Indigenous words. Shrey correctly spelled “Jumano,” a group of Native Americans that lived in the Southwest and South Plains between until around 1700. He asked twice for an etymology, but judges told him that it had none, given the dictionary. No matter — he nailed the spelling.

The next competitor, Aditi Muthukumar, was asked to spell Lillooet, a Salishan people of the Fraser River valley in British Columbia. The word also did not have a language of origin listed, and it knocked Aditi out of the finals.

Immediately after Aditi came Bruhat, the night’s eventual champion, who correctly spelled “Okvik,” from an Alaskan geographical name.

Texas holds the title of being home to the most Bee champions, with 16 spellers from the Lone Star State holding the trophy under clouds of confetti. Out of the 20 Texans who made it to the nationals this year, only two remained by the finals.

Faizan, who is from the Dallas area, came in second place after spelling 20 words correctly in the spell-off.

The eight finalists spanned the United States, with spellers from California to New York.

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