What happened at an American spelling bee that blew everyone’s minds

No one was going anywhere and the conveners were running out of big words. What were they going to do?
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We can’t say the spelling bee is big in New Zealand but in the United States it’s huge.

Think packed-to-capacity stadiums and standing ovations for correctly spelled words. If you can imagine this then you can begin to imagine how huge.

At the finals for the recent 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee championship, which was held in Maryland, the excitement reached fever pitch when the competitors were so good the conveners literally ran out of big words for them to spell.

Late into the evening and more than an hour after the event was scheduled to end, its 12- to 14-year-old competitors were still going strong, battling it out with words like erysipelas, bougainvillea and palama. No one was going anywhere and the conveners were at a loss as to what to do.

“We have plenty of words left on our list but will soon run out of words that would challenge you,” said the Bee’s official pronouncer Dr Jacques Bailly.

“We’re throwing the dictionary at you and so far, you are showing the dictionary who is boss.”

And so the bee’s organisers did something they have never done before…

They declared the 20th round would be the last and anyone who got through would be announced a national champion. Everyone.

As each adolescent took centre-stage to receive their very big word there was hand wringing, rocking backwards and forwards and the wiping of brow sweat from both audience members and those on stage.

As competitor 93, Erin Howard, received her word she began dancing from one foot to the other in jubilation.

“Erysipelas, can I have the definition, pleeeaaase, I beg of you,” she implored.

You could see she had this.

Of the eight left standing, Erin and every other one of them got through. In an unprecedented conclusion to this 92-year-old event, history was made as eight national champions were announced.

The crowd went wild and golden confetti was released as the eight ecstatic winners laid their palms on the trophy.

The winners were Rishik Gandhasri, 13; Erin Howard, 14; Saketh Sundar, 13; Shruthika Padhy, 13; Sohum Sukhatankar, 13; Abhijay Kodali, 12; Christopher Serrao, 13; and Rohan Raja, 13.

The five-day competition had started with 562 spellers and contestants had come from all 50 American states, as well as several territories and other countries including the Bahamas, Canada, Germany, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea.

Each of the winners reportedly received US$50,000 in cash, a Scripps trophy, reference books and trips to New York and Hollywood to appear on talk shows. In 2016 Scripps named two winners but apart from this the competition hasn’t recognised more than a two-way tie since it began in 1925.

We can only imagine how pumped that car ride home from the competition was for the winners and their families.

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