As Nihar Janga and Jairam Hathwar became the third consecutive set of tied winners of the 89th Scripps National Spelling Bee, it's worth looking into the number of ties in the Scripps National Spelling Bee history. This year marks the sixth time two contestants have tied in the Bee. In 2014, Hathwar's older brother Sriram and Texan-born Ansun Sujoe made history as the first co-champions to tie in the national spelling bee in over 50 years, making them the fourth set of co-champions in the bee's 89-year run.
Two years ago, the announcement of co-champions was exciting; last year, it caused a stir because it was the first time the bee had tied winners two years in a row. This year, however, is a different story. Ahead of the competition, reports that Scripps was hoping for a single champion came to no avail as Janga and Hathwar both completed the intended tiebreaker, which was more difficult this year than ever before.
Before this year's May 26 competition, Paige Kimble, the Bee's executive director and a former champion, told the Washington Post that even though they'd made it more difficult for two contestants to tie, the tenacity of the spellers could very well outpace the increased challenge.
"The question — and no one has the answer yet — is whether raising the bar like this is sufficient. The level of competition among the most elite spellers has risen to a degree that it’s challenging to find words that challenge them," Kimble said. She got her answer as Hathwar and Janga correctly spelled words rooted in difficult languages like Hawaiian, Mayan, and Gaelic, and became the sixth pair of co-champions in the Bee's history.
Although the winners seemed thrilled with their win (especially Hathwar, who is following in his brother's footsteps), some were less congratulatory and expressed concern that the Bee is "going soft" with what seems like a tying trend. Neither Scripps nor the co-champions, however, can be faulted; the showdown between the two boys lasted for nearly an hour in what other sports would consider "overtime" as the final two correctly spelled such insane words as "Groenendael" (a breed of dog), "guignolet" (a delicious-looking cherry liqueur), and "kjeldahl" (a nitrogen-measuring method).
This year's winners are historic in many ways: Hathwar and Janga are the ninth consecutive Indian-American winners (which, given the past three ties, makes them the 12th Indian-American winners since 2008), Janga is the youngest winner in spelling bee history, and Hathwar is the first sibling of a champion to also win the bee. Although some may consider the tie "another impasse," these boys prove that the diligence and intelligence of some kids can outsmart even the most seasoned wordsmiths.