When Ananya Vinay was declared the winner of the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee Thursday night, the 12-year Fresno, California, resident appeared stunned — unimpressed, even.
That is, until her father excitedly made his way to the stage at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland, amid a colorful cascade of confetti to congratulate her. Then it began to sink in, and Ananya’s face lit up.
In 12 hours of spelling correctly, she’d beat out 40 finalists in 36 rounds of nonstop spelling to scoop up more than $40,000 in cash and an accompanying list of other perks and prizes.
“It’s like a dream come true,” the previously calm and collected 6th-grader finally blurted out while holding tight to her shiny new trophy. “I’m so happy right now.”
Ananya faced off against Rohan Rajeev, 14, of Edmond, Oklahoma, in the marathon final round, going back and forth for more than 20 words apiece. To his dismay, Rohan stumbled on the Scandinavian-derived word “marram,” defined as a coarse beach grass.
Ananya prevailed with “marocain,” defined as a French derivation for a ribbed-cage dress fabric.
Her late-night win marked the first time in four years that the event has proclaimed a sole champion. Ananya, who finished 172nd last year, is also the 13th consecutive Indian-American to win the bee.
Rohan, who was in his final year of eligibility for the bee, spelled a slew of far-fetched words such as “brabancon,” a Belgian breed of heavy powerful horses, and “psophometer,” an instrument that provides a visual indication of audible effects.
Rohan seemed both familiar with and perplexed by that one word that took him down.
“I think I’ve seen [the word] somewhere,” he said. “I just couldn’t — I couldn’t recall it.”
This year’s bee featured 291 champion spellers, including its youngest-ever national participant, 6-year-old Edith Fuller of Oklahoma, who won the Scripps Green Country Regional Spelling Bee in Tulsa to advance to the national round.
“[We’d] already told her that if she misspelled her first word and was out right away, we are still proud of her,” said her father, Justin Fuller.