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On Thursday, May 31, 14-year-old Karthik Nemmani stunned the world when he beat crowd favorite and veteran competitor Naysa Modi, to win the coveted Scripps National Spelling Bee championship. His winning word? Koinonia, an obscure word of Greek origin, which means “an intimate spiritual or Christian communion.” The Texas eighth grader’s opportunity came unexpectedly in the first championship round after Naysa mixed up the single and double “s” in bewusstseinslage, a German-derived word which means “a state of consciousness or a feeling devoid of sensory components.”
Karthik’s victory was particularly poignant given that in any other year, the teenager from Scoggins Middle School in McKinney, TX would not have been eligible for the finals. He did not, after all, win his county or even regional spelling bee. In fact, it was Naysa who had defeated him and other competitors in March at the Golden Chick Dallas Regional Spelling Bee.
However, Karthik managed to get a wild card entry thanks to a new program called the RSVBee, which allowed spellers who had won their school bee, or previously competed on the national stage, to qualify for the competition. The program, which added 238 competitors for a total record-breaking 515 contestants to the national tournament, gave competent spellers like Karthik a second chance at showing their prowess. "It's [the RSVBee has] been great from the speller perspective. We see the program as a way to level the playing field," said Bee spokesperson Valerie Miller.
In addition to the bragging rights, Karthik also received a trophy and prizes worth $40,000, including $25,000 in cash, trips to New York and Los Angeles for appearances on national television, a reference library from Merriam-Webster, and a pizza party for his school. The teenager, who arranged block letters to spell “horse” when he was three and won his first spelling bee at age five, is the 14th consecutive spelling bee winner of Indian descent. Though Naysa, who has been vying for the championship for the past four years, did not get to fulfill her dream, she did go home with $30,000 in prize money. Moreover, the seventh-grader still has a chance to take home the trophy next year!
Now celebrating its 91st year, the National Spelling Bee, which attracted over 11 million kids, or 31 percent of all eligible students, in 2018 has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Preparations for the grueling elimination-based tournament begin in earnest long before the competitions, with serious contenders spending as much as four hours a day poring over dictionaries and word etymology lists. Some, like this year’s champion Karthik, even hire “spelling coaches” — past winners and participants of the bee — to help them master the vocabulary.
Resources: USAtoday.com, guardian.co.uk, news.yahoo.com