Spelling bee ends in tie, second year in a row Vanya Shivashankar, left, 13, of Olathe, Kan., and Gokul Venkatachalam, 14, of St. Louis, hold up the championship trophy as co-champions after winning the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee (AP photos)
Spelling bee ends in tie, second year in a row
Lexile

For the second straight year, the Scripps National Spelling Bee ended with co-champions each holding onto one side of the golden trophy while they were showered with confetti.

Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam were the last two standing after exhausting the 25 words reserved for the final three spellers without stumbling. Before last year, there hadn't been a tie since 1962.

No one was surprised to see Vanya and Gokul dueling for the title. They came in with high expectations Vanya, the longtime darling of the bee, a five-time competitor and the sister of the 2009 champion; and Gokul, who last year had the trophy nearly in his grasp.

But the tie shocked Paige Kimble, the bee's executive director and the 1981 champion, who had predicted that another half-century would go by before the bee would crown two winners. As impressive as Gokul and Vanya were, she couldn't believe they'd make it through.

"The most surprising words trip spellers up," Kimble said. "I thought something was going to surprise us here, but it never happened."

Vanya, 13, of Olathe, Kansas, was the picture of poise, smiling and nodding when she got a word she knew instantly which was nearly every time. Her final word: "scherenschnitte," which means the art of cutting paper into decorative designs.

Then it was Gokul's turn, and the 14-year-old from Chesterfield, Missouri, was told that one of two things would happen, that he could get the word right and be a co-champion, or he could get it wrong and Vanya would win.

"I wasn't nervous," he said.

The word was "nunatak" and Gokul didn't even bother to ask the definition before spelling it. For the record, it means a hill or mountain completely surrounded by glacial ice.

"I knew it right away," he said, "I didn't want to keep everyone waiting."

Roughly 11 million spellers entered local bees and 285 made it to the national bee, which is held at a convention center outside Washington and televised by ESPN. The 10 finalists included several other bee veterans and crowd favorites.

One by one, they dropped. Third-place finisher Cole Shafer-Ray of Norman, Oklahoma, stumbled on his first championship-level word.

That left 18 words for Vanya and Gokul before the final two: bouquetire, caudillismo, thamakau, scytale, tantieme, cypseline, urgrund, filicite, myrmotherine, sprachgefuhl, zimocca, nixtamal, hippocrepiform, paroemiology, scacchite, pipsissewa, Bruxellois and pyrrhuloxia.

Vanya appeared to struggle only with the Fijian-derived "thamaku," which is a type of outrigger canoe. Gokul smirked and the crowd groaned when he got the German-derived "sprachgefuhl," which means sensitivity to or conformance with the established usage of a language. But he knew it.

The former champions in the crowd were left to marvel at how far the bee has come, even in the past decade. Vanya is the first sibling of a past champion to win, but Kavya, now a student at Columbia University, said Vanya is a superior speller.

"I'm so, so proud and in awe of my sister," Kavya said.

"Every year, they get better and better," said Anamika Veeramani, who won in 2010 and is now a rising sophomore at Yale. "One thing that kind of surprised me was how often they were asking for roots. They never did that when I was competing."

Like many spellers, Vanya went through a routine, asking for the definition and the language of origin, confirming the roots and pretending to write the word down before spelling.

Gokul didn't ask many questions and he chugged through the letters like he had dinner plans.

Underneath his blue-and-white button-down shirt, Gokul wore the jersey of his idol, basketball star LeBron James. He hopes to attend Stanford and become an entrepreneur or stockbroker, but his immediate plans are to watch James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

Vanya, an aspiring cardiac surgeon who dedicated her victory to her late grandmother, hopes to spend more time pursuing another passion, acting. She's also trying to talk her family into taking a Caribbean cruise this summer.

"It's definitely going to be weird not doing spelling in high school," he said.

The last 10 winners of the bee, and 14 of the past 18, have been Indian-Americans, a run of dominance that began in 1999 with Nupur Lala's victory, which was later featured in the documentary "Spellbound."

Vanya and Gokul each will receive more than $37,000 in cash and prizes and while they held up the trophy together as they were being showered with confetti, each will get one to take home.

The winners don't have to worry about spelling anymore, but Kimble is left to ponder a future when the toughest words still aren't tough enough.

"I think it's time to consider that the bee may be entering a new era where the level of competition is so intense that we need to entertain this as a possibility every year," she said. "I think the popularity of the event drives up the competitive level and I think that's a good thing."

Critical thinking challenge: Why do spellers get better each year?

Assigned 4 times


COMMENTS (9)
  • Isabelc-Lam
    6/02/2015 - 01:33 p.m.

    Wow what an amazing feat! To think these 13 and 14 year old kids can spell and remember words I have never herd and have no hope of ever pronouncing correctly. These students are true prodigies, each with there own dream equally suited for their great accomplishments. It must be interesting to follow what they go on to do after their time competing is over. Each and every competitor has already beat me out times a thousand just for entering, kudos to them!

  • Zachf-Lam
    6/02/2015 - 02:29 p.m.

    I never realized that these spelling bees where becoming such a popular event. Perhaps I'm blinded in my own ignorance of what popular now, otherwise i would have entered in one of these events much sooner. I'm sure these competitions would be extremely beneficial to my vocabulary, and allow me to expand my mind. Perhaps i should attempt to start a small spelling bee at my school. I suppose it's almost weird not to have one available here.

  • Peterr-Lam
    6/02/2015 - 02:33 p.m.

    The achievement these guys have reached is nothing short of incredible. The only thing I was wondering: why are none of those crazy medical terms in the list of championship level words?

  • Tessak-Lam
    6/02/2015 - 02:34 p.m.

    Vanya and Gokul are crazy smart! I would never be able to spell any of the words they did, let alone, know what they mean! It is also so incredible that they are only 13 and 14! I bet that many adults probably didn't even know half of the words they did! They are definitely true prodigies.

  • Peterr-Lam
    6/02/2015 - 02:35 p.m.

    The achievement these guys have reached is nothing short of incredible. The only thing I was wondering: why are none of those crazy medical terms in the list of championship level words?

  • ShaniaWentz-Ste
    6/02/2015 - 07:50 p.m.

    When I first saw that this year's spelling bee ended with a tie, I was surprised. I figured that they would have kept going. until a winner occurred. But then again, last year's had the same outcome: a tie. At Newport, we go until a winner is achieved or until the last bell rings. However, ever since I can remember, we have always had a winner.

  • lm2000food
    6/04/2015 - 01:12 p.m.

    spellers get better each year because after the first competition they go home a get ready for the next by practicing and getting better for the next year.

  • L.E 1999 blue
    6/08/2015 - 08:42 a.m.

    Its nice that some kids like to go to spelling bee's and participate. Some kids don't have a choice and there parents want them to do something that they don't want to do. Some kids could actually be a part of something that they really like to do. They could win trophies and get prices for being smart and remembering and learning a lot of words.

  • Valorg
    6/09/2015 - 11:48 a.m.

    For the first time in almost sixty years two students have won the national scrips spelling bee by means of tie. Vanya and gokul shall be sharing the title together for the the spelling bee however this is not the first year this has happened matter of fact it is the second

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