National Spelling Bee Ends with Co-Champs

Dorothy Rowley | 5/30/2014, 10:21 a.m.
The nation's two top spellers literally took every word the Scripps National Spelling Bee could throw at them in Thursday ...
Ansun Sujoe (left), 13, and Sriram J. Hathwar, 14, celebrate their win in the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee at the National Harbor, Md., on May 29, after a tie was declared. Photo by Roy Lewis

After a tension-filled finale that often left members of the audience biting their nails or perched on the edge of their chairs as the spelling list quickly dwindled, both Sriram Hathwar of Corning, New York, and Ansun Sujoe of Fort Worth, Texas, confidently took turns stepping to the microphone to spell words that most people never knew existed.

But by the end of the contest, when Ansun correctly spelled the last of the 25 words on the championship list, both of their efforts had catapulted them to instant fame as co-winners of the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee, which took place May 27-30 at the Gaylord Hotel Resort and Convention Center at National Harbor, Maryland.

"I think we both know the competition is against the dictionary and not against each other," said an excited Sriram, amid a shower of confetti that filled the stage moments after he and Ansun won the competition, making their joint win a first since 1962. "I am happy to share this trophy with him” said Sriram,13, who correctly spelled “stichomythia,” which means dialogue especially of altercation or dispute delivered in alternating lines (as in classical Greek drama). Sriram, a two-time Scripps contestant and world traveler, admitted having staged a “fierce comeback” following an upsetting loss in 2013.

While many of the spellers looked astonished when presented with words such as “xerophthalmia,” “pampootie,” and “orthography,” the same terms most likely would have been a piece of cake for Ansun and Sriram.

Ansun, 14, said he’s particularly proud of winning, because it’s the last time he could compete.

“I was pretty happy when I made the finals, and now I’m even happier that I’m a co-champion,” said Ansun, who ended the prestigious competition when he nailed "feuilleton," defined as a light or entertaining article, usually published in a marked off small section of a European newspaper.

But Ansun said he's not done with spelling, and will help his younger sister prepare for next year’s competition.

In the meantime, both winners headed home over the weekend with their personally engraved trophy, a $30,000 check and other prizes.

The bee, which is in its 87th year, featured 281 top spellers from across the United States and several other countries – who, during Bee Week got to be known around the Gaylord where they and their families stayed, as “spellebrities.”

By the second morning of the contest, the list of contenders – whose linguistic skills were televised live by ESPN all over the world – had whittled down to 46 semi-finalists. That evening the number dropped to 31 semi-finalists, only to be further reduced to 12 finalists on the last day of the competition.

Greer Marshall, a rising 7th grader at Alice M. Deal Middle School in Northwest, represented The Washington Informer after taking home $1,000 and the championship trophy in the 32nd annual Citywide Spelling Bee, held earlier this spring. However, she couldn’t compete in the Scripps finals after falling short of two points on a written test.

"Next time I'm going to study like every day and look more at the roots of words, because I've see how that helps," said Greer, 11, of her plans to compete again next year.

But one of the most amusing spellers to watch during the whole contest turned out to be Jacob Williamson, an 8th-grader from Coral Springs, Florida.

Jacob’s excitement coupled with a variety of playful antics and high fives that he tossed into the air each time he correctly spelled words like “munchausenism” (the practice of a psychiatric disorder that causes an individual to self-inflict injury or illness) and "harlequinade” (a play or pantomime in which a comic servant character from the Italian “Commedia dell'arte” has a leading role) had the crowd in stitches from the moment he first took to the stage in the huge Maryland Ballroom, where more than 2,000 spectators gathered each day.

But as all good things must come to an end, Jacob who made it to the semi-finals, ran into trouble with the word, “kabaragoya," defined as a large lizard of Southeast Asia which grows to a length of three meters.

Upon hearing the word announced, Jacob enthusiastically shouted, "I know it! I know it! I totally know it!" But unfortunately, he misspelled it as “c-a-b-a-r-a-g-o-y-a.”