OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — 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 Thursday 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 predicted last week 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. The 14-year-old from Chesterfield, Missouri, was told that one of two things would happen. 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: “nunatak.” 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 ten 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: bouqueti
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