She was the adorable one, winner of Lifetime’s “Child Genius” quiz show, all smiles and confidence.
After three grueling days that dispatched 283 spellers with ruthless efficiency, Gokul Venkatachalam, 14, of Chesterfield, Missouri; and Vanya Shivashankar, 13, of Olathe, Kansas were the last two standing at the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday.
Until last year, the World Series of spellers hadn’t seen a tied win in more than five decades.
Now, it’s happened for the second year in a row.
Why? There weren’t enough words left on the competition’s list for them to keep facing off until only one was left.
Vanya correctly spelled the word “scherenschnitte” and Gokul correctly spelled the word “nunatak.”
Even though it was Gokul and Vanya who each took home a gigantic trophy and $35,000 in cash prizes, the night was a goldmine of memorable moments.
Here are the five best ones:
1. Name-dropping Drake
Jacques Bailly is the contest’s official pronouncer, a comforting presence who calmly reads out each word, its origin and uses it in a sentence for the contestants. Well, the folks at the Bee must have hired some new writers, because the sentences this year were a hoot. Very zeitgeist-y, with references to Instagram, SpongeBob SquarePants and, our personal favorite, the rapper Drake:
“Rumor has it that Drake’s next mix-tape contains a rap in which every verse begins and ends with a bacchius”
Amused, the musician himself posted the clip on his Instagram feed.
2. Ooh, that’s Cole-d
Eighth-grader Cole Shafer-Ray misspelled “acritarch” by one vowel and was knocked out after nine grueling rounds. It was his third and final appearance at the Bee, and he just wanted to eat his cookie. So when mom reached in for a consoling kiss — on national TV (gasp!) — he did what all uber self-conscious teens do: recoil. Dudes watching found it hilarious; moms watching sighed a little.
3. The inDEVatigable Jaswal
He may not have won the trophy, but Dev Jaiswal definitely won the Internet. The 13-year-old was done in by “iridocyclitis,” an inflammation of the eye (the word, not the condition). But did he cry or pout? No. Even in defeat, he was his beaming self. He got a standing ovation, signed autographs, and said his performance blew his own mind.
4. The invisible keyboard
It’s been a staple of the Spelling Bee for generations: Contestants tracing the letters on the back of their name tags. Well, Cole (he of the avoid-mom’s-kiss fame) took the invisible pen approach and kicked it up a notch — he mimicked typing as he spelled. Very millennial!
5. The desi Pacquiao v. Mayweather
Ultimately, it came down to Gokul and Vanya.
Gokul, an eighth-grader at Parkway West school, came in third last year. Gokul who said he hoped to win like his idol, LeBron James. Gokul who swatted away jaw-breaking words like pesky flies.
Then there was Vanya, an eighth grader at California Trail Middle School, who tied for 13th place last year. Who needed a win like her older sister, Kavya, in 2009. Who won $100,000 toward college on “Child Genius” earlier this year. And who wanted to make her recently deceased grandma proud.
They went at it — duking it out for 30 nail-biting minutes that put the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight to shame. Bruxellois? Bam! Pyrrhuloxia? Pshaw! What else you got?
In the end, they tied, marking the eighth straight year that Indian Americans (or “desis” in South Asian parlance) won the contest.
Even the competition’s announcers marveled at the finalists’ cool demeanor as the bee stretched into its final moments.
“It maybe impossible to stump these two tonight,” an ESPN announcer said.
And ultimately, it was.