Karthik Nemmani of McKinney, Texas, was declared a champion of the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night, winning on the word “koinonia.”
The 14-year-old emerged as the top speller from a record-shattering 515 contestants at the national bee, compared with 291 last year, after organizers expanded eligibility.
He had to outlast a field of 16 finalists who vanquished words such as “Praxitelean,” “ispaghul” and “telyn” – sometimes without batting an eyelash – in a breathtaking show of spelling skill broadcast live on ESPN.
The 16 finalists took the stage at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland to battle it out for the title of champion.
The competition was, in a word, brutal. In the first round of ESPN-televised spelling Thursday night, nearly half of the finalists misspelled their words, including several crowd favorites such as Tara Singh, a 13-year-old from Kentucky who was competing at her fifth and final national bee.
“I just try not to think about it,” said Naysa Modi, a 12-year-old from Texas, competing in her fourth national bee, when asked about whether she might be a favorite to win this year. “That’s too much pressure.”
Thursday had begun with 41 spellers who qualified for the finals after surviving what was arguably the most intense competition in the bee’s 93-year history.
This year more spellers qualified because of a new invitational program called “RSVBee,” which allows those who didn’t win a regional or state bee to still apply for the nationals if they had won their school bee or been a former national finalist.
The massive field of spellers began competing in earnest Tuesday by taking a written test so difficult that there were no perfect scores this year.