Vanya Shivashankar, Gokul Venkatachalam win 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee

It is eight in a row for Indian Americans.

2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee co-champions Gokul Venkatachalam and Vanya Shivashankar. Photo by Bala Chandran
2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee co-champions Gokul Venkatachalam and Vanya Shivashankar. Photo by Bala Chandran

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD: Indian Americans Vanya Shivashankar and  Gokul Venkatachalam have won the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night.

This is the second year in a row the Spelling Bee produced co-champions. Ansun Sujoe and Sriram Hathwar were co-champions last year.

This is the eight consecutive year Indian American spellers emerged victorious.

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The final word Shivashankar spelled was “scherenschmitte,” while Venkatachalam’s last word was “nunatak,” which he spat rapidly.

Shivashankar, 13, is an 8th grader at California Trail Middle School in Olathe, Kansas. The 14-year-old Venkatachalam, 14, is an 8th grader at Parkway West Middle School in his hometown of Chesterfield, Missouri.

The duo went toe to toe, correctly spelling an impressive list of 22 words, leaving the audience on the edge of their seats.

The words Venkatachalam spelled correctly include “pyrrhuloxia,” “pipsissewa,” “paroemiology,” “mixtamal,” “sprachgefuhl,” “filicite,” “cypseline” and “scytale.” Words Shivashankar spelled correctly include “scherenschnitte,” “Bruxellois,” “scacchite,” “hippocrepiform,” “zimocca,” “myrmotherine,” “urgrund,” “tantieme” and “thamakau.”

For Shivashankar, it was the second big trophy this year. In February, she had won Lifetime’s reality show Child Genius. Her big sister Kavya, the 2009 champion, was present to celebrate the victory.

The winners will each receive a trophy and $35,000, apart from $2,500 in US savings bonds, and other prizes.

Venkatachalam’s parents Venkatachalam Krishnan and Sreepriya Vaidynathan immigrated to the United States from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, India. They speak Tamil, which is also their son’s  second language.

Mirle and Sandhya Shivashankar, parents of Vanya, are from Mysore, Karnataka, India. Vanya also speaks Kannada.

In all, seven of the 10 finalists were Indian Americans. The third-place winner, Cole Shafer-Ray of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was eliminated after misspelling the word “arcotarch.”

Three Indian American students shared the fourth place: Snehaa Ganesh Kumar of Sacramento,  California; Dev Jaiswal of Jackson, Mississippi; and Siddharth Krishnakumar of Houston.

Lexington, Kentucky, native Paul Keaton and local boy Tejas Muthusamy finished 7th.

Sylvie Lamontagne of Denver was the first speller to be eliminated, followed by Siyona Mishra of Orlando, Florida. Both finished tied for 9th place.

The first surprise of the evening was the elimination of fan favorite Jaiswal, who was the leading scorer in semifinals.

The finals began with a BEEunion of sorts, with 11 past champions appearing on stage together. They were introduced by 2008 champion Sameer Mishra, who started the Indian American streak. The champions present, besides Mishra and Kavya Shivashankar, were Michael Kerpan Jr. (1965), Barrie Trinkle (1973), Jacques Bailly (1980), Paige Pipkin (1981), Blake Giddens (1983), Scott Isaacs (1989), George Abraham Thampy (2000), Kavya Shivashankar (2009) and Anamika Veeramani (2010).

(This story was updated May 29, 2015)

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