Scripps National Spelling Bee champ overcomes odds

14 year-old Karthik Nemmani correctly spells "koinonia" to beat local rival, 12 year-old Naysa Modi
spelling bee (© Paul Maguire |

At the peak of any competition, there are the very good, the great, and then the very best. It's true in all sports. But it's also true in a spelling bee.

The very best young spellers in the world have it down to an art form. They understand how the language of origin for a word—Latin, Greek, French, German—will likely affect its spelling. They ask for different pronunciations to look for other ways into a word's letters. And in the end, it takes one heck of an unusual word to trip up the very best.

Such as, say, "Bewusstseinslage"?

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Runner-up Naysa Modi takes a break during the Scripps National Spelling Bee. (Getty Embed)

That was the word that caught 12 year-old Naysa Modi off guard in the championship of the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee this past Thursday in National Harbor, Maryland. Her error allowed an unexpected competitor—14 year-old Karthik Nemmani—to seal the title by spelling his next two words correctly.

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No pressure! (Getty Embed)

A perfect spelling of "haecceitas" and "koinonia" later, and he was covered in confetti as the 91st national spelling bee champion.

Unexpected champ

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The buzz is all about Karthik! (Getty Embed)

Karthik is a great speller, clearly, but he was not seen as a favourite to win. Unlike most national champions, he didn't win his regional or county spelling bees. Coming from McKinney, Texas, he was used to seeing someone else beat him. That person would be Naysa, who is from nearby Frisco, Texas, and who defeated him in the Dallas county spelling bee.

In the past, such a defeat would've prevented Karthik from being eligible for the national bee. But a new rule instituted this year allowed wild cards to be allowed to compete. It pushed the total number of spellers to 516 (way more the previous top number of around 300). And it gave Karthik the one shot he needed to surprise everyone and come out on top!

He wins $40,000 US, a trophy, encyclopedias, and a $2,500 savings bond.

Burlington girl reached the final 16

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Despite the high stakes, competitors supported each other throughout the event. Many of the best spellers are close friends. (Getty Embed)

Naysa was obviously disappointed in her loss. Spelling bee super fans took to Twitter even to suggest that her losing word was a bit unfair compared to Karthik's (though footage of the final shows that he knew when she had made a mistake). Fortunately for her, she has one more chance—her eighth-grade year—to enter and win it all.

Though the top three finishers were all from the Dallas area (go, Texas!), competitors came from across the United States and a few other countries. In fact, Enya Hubers of Burlington, Ontario, was one of the final 16.

Watch the nail-biting final round in the video below.

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