Indian origin, Karthik Nemmani was declared the champion of the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee, winning on the word “koinonia” and surviving what was arguably the most intense competition in the bee’s 93-year history.
On Thursday night the 14-year-old Karthik Nemmani emerged the top speller from a record-shattering 515 contestants at the national bee, compared with 291 last year.
He received $40,000 and a trophy from the Scripps Bee, a $2,500 cash prize (and a complete reference library) from Merriam-Webster. As a part of a media tour he receives trips to New York and Hollywood as part of a media tour, and of course a pizza party for their school.
Karthik Nemmani, who was competing at his first national bee, displayed the poise of a veteran, seeming to sail through his words: “condottiere” (knight or roving soldier available for hire), “miarolitic” (of igneous rock), “cendre” (a moderate blue), “ankyloglossia” (limited normal movement of the tongue), “grognard,” “passus,” “shamir” (tiny worm capable to splitting the hardest stone) and “jaguey” (an East Indian tree).
He also continued a longtime trend by becoming the 14th champion or co-champion of South Asian descent the bee has had in 11 consecutive years.
He almost wasn’t at the national bee at all. Remarkably, Karthik has never won a regional or state bee — and in fact, lost to Modi at the Collin County Spelling Bee earlier this year. Nemmani qualified for nationals under the bee’s new invitational program, “RSVBee,” which allowed those who didn’t win a regional bee to still apply for the nationals if they had won their school bee or been a former national finalist.
Because of RSVBee, in the year 2018, more than 500 spellers qualified to compete at nationals.
The 16 spellers took the stage at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Centre in Maryland to battle it out for the title of champion.
To even get to that point, the finalists had to survive nearly five hours of onstage spelling that started Thursday morning. Bee officials said the plan had been to whittle down the field to about a dozen contestants for the prime-time competition. It would take five rounds of onstage spelling to get to 16, the largest group ever to head into the championship finals.
The 16 finalists ranged in age from 11 to 14 and include nine girls and seven boys.
In the first round, 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.
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.