Shivashankar and Venkatachalam put both their hands on the trophy and thrust it into the air on Thursday evening -- after spelling word after word that few people could even hope to pronounce correctly. “This is the second year in a row that the final has yielded co-champions,” Scripps National Spelling Bee said on its website.
“Last year was the first time in 52 years that two people had shared the trophy, and 2015 marks the first time in the bee’s 90-year history that there have ever been co-champions two years in a row. This is only the fifth tie ever.”
In the last minutes of the final, Shivashankar and Venkatachalam “navigated and sometimes breezed through the championship words with poise, like tennis players returning near-impossible shots”, Scripps said in its report on the final.
Shivashankar started with “bouquetiere” and Venkatachalam countered with “caudillismo”.
“It’s not the first time in this competition he’s proven he can handle a Spanish-derived word,” the announcer from ESPN that covers the event, held in National Harbor in the US state of Maryland, said. Shivshankar then spelled thamakau, a word of Fijian origin that describes a large canoe. Venkatachalam came up with scytale, a message written in a method of cipher used especially by the Spartans. “That’s how good these too are. For most spellers, that would be a nightmare,” the announcer said. “That dictionary is no mystery to them.” Among the words the two spelled on their way to the title were cypseline, urgrund. filicite, myrmotherine, sprachgefuhl, zimocca, hippocrepiform, nixtamal, paroemiology, scacchite, pipsissewa, bruxellois, and pyrrhuloxia.
At this point, there were only four words remaining. “That meant that if both spelled their next words correctly, both would go home winners -- because there would be just two words left, not enough for a winner to spell two correctly in succession,” Scripps explained. After asking about the origin, part of speech, definition and alternative pronunciations of the word, Shivashankar nailed the word “scherenschnitte”. However, Venkatachalam had no questions about the word “nunatak” and spelled it coolly.
As the the ticker tape rained down on the stage, the two young Indian Americans hugged each other.
“This is a dream come true. I can’t believe I’m up here,” Shivashankar said. But with nine bee appearances between them, it’s pretty easy to imagine that something this fitting would happen. Shivshankar, an eighth grader at California Trail Middle School, has competed in the national bee four other times. Last year, she tied for 13th place.
Her older sister, Kavya, was the 2009 National Spelling Bee champion. "This is a dream come true. I can't believe I'm up here. I've wanted this for such a long time," she said, adding "I'm dedicating this to my grandma, because she passed away in October of 2013, and all she really wanted was her grandkids to do so well, and I hope I make her happy with this."
Venkatachalam, an eighth grader at Parkway West School, came in third place in last year's competition.
After his victory, he said the competition was a culmination of six years of hard work. "I've dealt with defeat and success," he said during the live broadcast. "I'm finally happy to have success."