Anyone who can unflinchlingly spell the word “stromuhr” under the gaze of a roomful of rivals and a prime-time TV audience deserves to be America’s queen bee.
And at 14, that is what Anamika Veeramani is, having won the 83rd Scripps National Spelling Bee on Friday by correctly spelling the name of the device used to measure blood flow and speed.
In doing so she took home more than $US40,000 ($A47,500) in cash and prizes.
Anamika became the third consecutive Indian-American bee champion, and the eighth the last 12 years. It’s a run that began when Nupur Lala won in 1999 and was featured in the documentary Spellbound.
Anamika, who finished tied for fifth last year, was one of the favorites among the 273 spellers who began the three-day event. She stood deadpan while the audience cheered, not cracking a smile until the trophy was presented.
Three-way tie for second
There was a three-way tie for second. Adrian Gunawan, 14; Elizabeth Platz, 13; and Shantanu Srivatsa, 13, were all eliminated in the same round.
Anamika survived the round by spelling “juvia” – a Brazil nut – and then had to wait for a nerve-racking three-minute commercial break before spelling the championship word.
The finals were preceded by an unpopular move that had some spellers and the parents claiming the bee was unfair and had kowtowed too much to TV.
Concerned that there wouldn’t be enough spellers left to fill the two-hour slot on ABC, organisers stopped the semi-finals in the middle of a round on Friday afternoon – and declared that the 10 spellers onstage would advance to the prime-time broadcast, including six who didn’t have to spell a word in the interrupted round.
Essentially, the alphabetical order of the US states helped determine which spellers got to move on the marquee event.
“I would rather have five finalists, than five who didn’t deserve it,” said Elizabeth Paltz, a finalist and one of the four spellers who spelled a word correctly before the round was stopped.
“I think it was unfair.”
Elizabeth’s remarks were greeted with applause from parents in the hotel ballroom where the bee is held.
It’s one of the pitfalls of the growing popularity of the bee, which has to yield to the constraints of its TV partners. There were 19 spellers left at the start of the round, which was too many for prime-time. But when the round turned out to be brutal – nine of the first 13 misspelled – ABC was on the verge of having too few.
“I don’t feel bad at all for giving these children the opportunity,” bee director Paige Kimble said. “Do I wish we could give it to 19? Yes, certainly, but that’s not practical in a two-hour broadcast window. We know it’s unpopular and we don’t like to do it, but sometimes you can get into a position where that’s exactly what you have to do.”