After 14 rounds of words like « probouleutic » and « zwitterion » and « schistorrrhachis, » eighth-grader Dev Shah from Florida hit the pinnacle of his craft, spelling « psammophile » correctly to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee Thursday night.
He denied the spelling community another electrifying spell, outlasted the dominant Texans, and didn’t let the schwa make him schweat.
If you weren’t able to watch the finals on Thursday night, here are some suggestions.
The schwa is a ruthless killer
The schwa — the « uh »-like sound that can be represented by any vowel in the English alphabet, also known as the bane of existence for competitive spellers — eliminated several finalists, as it routinely does.
He knocked out Pranav Anandh in the ninth round, when he substituted an ‘i’ for the first ‘e’ in ‘querken’, which means ‘to make one gasp’.
Two rounds later, he defeated Arth Dalsania, who replaced the « a » with the « u » in « katuka », a venomous snake also known as Russell’s viper. In the twelfth round, the insidious schwa claimed two victims: Vikrant Chintanaboina (« pataca », which he misspelled as « petaca ») and Aryan Khedkar (« pharetrone », which he misspelled as « pharotrone »).
It’s hard to blame competitors, considering a schwa can be any of six letters or none at all. It’s the « a » in balloon, the « e » in item, the « i » in family, the « o » in lemon, the « u » in support, the « y » in analysis and, umm, nothing before the » m » in rhythm.
The spell did not materialize
Unlike last year, when the champion was determined by a first-ever spell after running out of the regular word list after 18 rounds, the bee didn’t need such extraordinary measures this time around.
By the 14th round, the field had dwindled to two competitors: Dev and Charlotte Walsh. Dev walked over to the microphone, heard the word “bathypytometer” — “an instrument designed to record the current speed and temperature of water at indicated depths below the surface of a sea or lake,” Merriam-Webster says — and wrote it as if they recited their own name.
Walsh, meanwhile, was puzzled about « daviely », who spelled « daevilick ».
All Dev had to do then was write one more word in Round 15, and he did.
The bee turned out to be bigger than Texas
Texas contestants usually stack the finals and often win the title: in fact, four of the last seven bees featured champions from the Lone Star State.
But of the 21 competitors from Texas in this year’s bee — more than from any other state — only one made it to the finals: Tarini Nandakumar, who was eliminated in the tenth round over a vocabulary question.
In all, the 11 finalists represented a large swath of the United States, from Utah to Pennsylvania to Nebraska to Virginia. Four were from California, three of whom were sponsored by the Rotary Club of San Ramon itself.
The only Floridian in the final, Dev, from Largo outside St. Petersburg, gave the state its first winner since 1999.