OXON HILL, Md. — The 2022 Scripps National Spelling Bee ended in a way that none of the previous 93 competitions has finished.
The final two contestants, Vikram Raju and Harini Logan, failed to correctly spell two words in a row between rounds 13 and 18. At that time, the judges elected to institute the first spelling – 90 seconds to correctly spell as many words as possible. . The one with the most correct spelling would win the bee.
Logan – an eighth grader from Texas – spelled 21 words correctly, to Raju’s 15, to become the 2022 champion.
“So surreal, it’s such a dream,” said Logan, who is competing in his fourth national competition.
Logan, 14, barely got past the meaning of the word round on Thursday. She had heard the tragic bell after her answer for “pullulation” was rejected.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I’m out. This is it,'” Logan said.
However, the judges spoke during a break and ruled that the answer she gave could be correct, as it could mean ‘to breed’ or ‘to swarm’.
Chief Justice Mary Brooks explained the decision and Logan, who minutes earlier had learned of his reversed fortunes, returned to his place on stage.
“There were a few minutes in between that were frantic,” Logan said.
Logan worked through the rest of the spell until his standoff with Raju, which led to the spell.
It was like part of Family Feud’s “Fast Money” meets the Spelling Bee. The typical questions contestants may ask the pronunciator – part of speech, etymology and definition – were not allowed. Every word had to be attempted – no skips or passes – and spelling had to hit a buzzer before the next word appeared. While Raju went first, Logan was sequestered in a backstage room with noise canceling headphones playing classical music in his ears so she couldn’t hear his answers.
“I was a little uncomfortable at first and just decided to take it in stride,” Logan said of the spell. “We knew it would be part of the competition, if it came down to that.”
Logan won the $50,000 cash prize and the Scripps Cup trophy in addition to awards from Merriam-Webster and Encyclopedia Britannica.
“She’s amazing. She’s brilliant. She’s poised,” said Grace Walters, one of Logan’s trainers. “I’ve seen her encounter so many challenges on her journey and she tackles each of them and moves forward with an exuberant smile.”
The first round of the final on Thursday – heavy in scientific terms and related to vegetation like “Pachytylus” – eliminated five of the 13 finalists.
To discourage strict word memorization and emphasize a holistic approach to language, the bee last year began incorporating multiple-choice “word meaning” sets. Competitors are not asked to spell; instead, they are given a word with three definitions and they must choose the correct one.
Thursday’s single round of word meanings proved to be a litmus test, as with the 234 spellers who traveled to Maryland for the final. Half of the remaining peloton bowed out.
One of those four was Kirsten Santos, a sixth-grade student from Arizona who wore a denim jacket and bedazzled headband and was the second-youngest contestant to advance to the 2022 Finals.
“OK,” Santos calmly replied into the microphone.
The exercise almost cost Logan a chance to win the trophy. Instead, she advanced into the 10th round alongside Raju, Vihaan Sibal and 13-year-old Saharsh Vuppala, who left an “l” at the end of “phenocoll”.
“I know there are words with ‘coll’ on the end,” he told host LeVar Burton afterwards, “and I was just wondering if I should put the second ‘l’ .”
A letter – in a word or among the multiple-choice options – makes all the difference.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.