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The National Spelling Bee Ended in an Unprecedented Eight-Way Tie

“We’re basically throwing the dictionary at you,” pronouncer Jacques Bailly told the spellers. “[A]nd so far you are showing the dictionary who is boss”

The winning spellers made history with eight co-champions, the most number in the spelling event history. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
smithsonian.com

The 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee began on Sunday with 562 contestants, all hoping to successfully spell their way through some of the most challenging words in the dictionary. And on Friday morning, for the first time in its history, the competition ended with eight champions—a result of the final spellers being just too darn good to beat.

After the 17th round, which was the second in a row with no eliminations, the bee’s official pronouncer Jacques Bailly said organizers were running out of words that might be able to flummox what he called “the most phenomenal collection of super spellers in the history of this competition.”

“We’re basically throwing the dictionary at you,” Bailly added. “[A]nd so far you are showing the dictionary who is boss.”

Any player that could make it through the next three rounds, Bailly announced, would be crowned champion. Officials had discussed the possibility of implementing this plan after it took five and a half hours to narrow a pool of 50 contestants down to the 16 finalists who would compete on primetime television. But to the competitors, the news came as a surprise.

The game had already stretched past its scheduled end time, and the young spellers were getting tired. At the beginning of the 17th round, reports Daniel Victor of the New York Times, 13-year-old Rishik Gandhasri asked Bailly if he would “happen to know what time it is.” 11:18 p.m., was the answer.

But the last remaining crop of spellers nevertheless trudged their way through three more rounds, all of them making it to the end of the game. When the final speller calmly trounced the last word—odylic—the eight winners high-fived.

The “octo-champs,” as they call themselves, are Rishik Gandhasri, 13; Erin Howard, 14; Saketh Sundar, 13; Shruthika Padhy, 13; Sohum Sukhatankar; Abhijay Kodali, 12; Christopher Serrao, 13; and Rohan Raja, 13. Their winning words were, respectively: auslaut, erysipelas, bougainvillea, aiguillette, pendeloque, palama, cernuous and odylic.

Each champion will receive a trophy and a $50,000 prize.

Since the inaugural Scripps Spelling Bee in 1925, the competition’s words have become increasingly more difficult—in large part because the spellers are getting increasingly better. Six past games have ended with two champions; in 2017, after co-champions were declared three years in a row, the bee announced that any ties would be broken with a written test. But, according to the Associated Press, bee officials ultimately “decided the test was too burdensome and got rid of it.”

The eight winners of this year’s competition seemed happy to share the coveted title. Speaking to CNN after their win, they said they were pulling for one another during those final, nail-biting rounds.

“As a speller, you know how hard everyone else has worked,” Sohum explained, “and you know how much they deserve to win.”

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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