The nation watched in anticipation as 10 of the best young spellers in the country duked it out on May 26 to see who among them can truly spell all the tough words. Bibliophiles, word enthusiasts, and pop culture fans around the country are d-y-i-n-g to know: Who won the Scripps National Spelling Bee?
After a tight battle, the judges announced Nihar Janga and Jairam Hathwar as co-champions of this year's spelling bee, making them the third set of tied winners in the past three years.
The competition began Tuesday, May 24, with a preliminary written test, and by Thursday morning, only 45 remained. Each round got more and more difficult as contestants tripped up over words like "salele" (a word of Samoan origin, and the name of a silver-colored fish), and "Liechtenstein" (a European country). After the seventh round, 10 finalists entered the final round Thursday night, and after an hours-long event, Hathwar and Janga became co-champions of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
As the contest heated up, Twitter was abuzz with speculation on who would win the hard-fought Bee. Many users figuratively put their money behind Janga, a first-time contestant and the youngest of the finalists at age 11. However, 13-year-old Snehaa Kumar was almost as popular on the social network's #spellingbee hashtag as she, Janga, and Hathwar became the final three contestants before she was disqualified on the word "usucapion" (a property-title term).
Both the co-champions have interesting stories, which made the final showdown all the more exciting. Hathwar, the younger brother of 2014 co-champion Sriram Hathwar, made it close to the finals in 2015 (and was disqualified after misspelling the word "riegel,"a type of ridge in a glacial valley), while Janga earned the nickname "The Machine" for his lightning-fast spelling skills and knowledge of definitions before they were given to him.
The 89th of its kind, the 2016 contest was the ninth consecutive National Spelling Bee with an Indian-American champion. Although most were supportive, racist remarks on Twitter about the contestants' ethnicities began to emerge throughout the live broadcast of the contest. The trend of bigotry against spelling bee champions is, unfortunately, not new. Some Twitter users, however, called out the racism against the young contestants.
Bigotry aside, this year's Bee had its share of feel-good moments as well. Heartening stories about the contestants and their rise to the national Bee abounded prior to the final round, especially that of adorable first-grader Akash Vukoti, who was this year's youngest contestant. The expert spellers made headlines and charmed Twitter with their antics as they dabbed their way through the spelling bee, miming the popular motion in celebration as they correctly spelled words like "nominal" (meaning in name only) and "condignly" (another term for "fittingly").
As viewers cheered on their champions, there was much to celebrate — between the memes, the nicknames and "the dreaded schwa," this year's Bee proved that intelligence and diversity can dominate airwaves and social media.