Indian American Mahankali new Spelling Bee champ

New Yorker finished third in past two years.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: Arvind Mahankali won the 86th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night. In doing so, he became the 11th Indian American winner of the competition since 1999, and the sixth consecutive Indian American champion.

READ: The American Bazaar’s minute-by-minute coverage of the Spelling Bee

Arvind Mahankali. Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee
New Spelling Bee champion Arvind Mahankali. Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee

Mahanakali, an unusually composed and eloquent 13-year-old from Bayside Hills, New York, accepted his prize with grace and aplomb. A former contestant who finished third twice in the past two years after losing on German language-based words – something he called the “curse of the German” – Mahankali ended up winning this year’s competition on a German word. He spelled the word “knaidel” effortlessly.

Later when asked on stage about the significance of that, he said: “It means that I am retiring on a good note!”

This was the fourth time Mahankali was taking part at the Spelling Bee.

The top three finalists this year were all Indian American boys, the two runners-up being Pranav Sivakumar and Sriram Hathyar.

“Indians have a desire to prove that they’re able to learn fast despite being from another country,” speculated Mahankali in a post-victory interview on-stage.

This was the second year in a row Indian American spellers were sweeping the first three prizes.

Last year, Californian Snigdha Nandipati was the champion, while Stuti Mishra and Mahankali were second and third.

Even by the exalted standard they have set for themselves in the past decade and a half, the Indian American domination this year was unprecedented.

Eight of the 11 finalists in total were of Indian descent, making the subcontinent an unusually large presence in what is already a rather Indian American-dominated event.

When Mahankali lifted the trophy, it was witnessed by three past Indian American champions: the 2000 champion George Abraham Thampy, who was an associate judge, 2009 winner Kavya Shivashankar and Anamika Veeramani, winner in 2010.

Shivashankar and Veeramani were there to root for their siblings.

Shivashankar’s sister, Vanya, was one of the finalists, but her bid to emulate her big sister ended when she failed to correctly spell the word” zaneida.”

In the 89th Spelling Bee, there were 281 contestants, representing 50 states, and U.S. commonwealths and territories, and seven countries. They were selected from a large pool of 11 million spellers who competed at various levels. The spellers were sponsored by 272 newspapers and other community organizations.

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