Interviews also with their parents, past champion Kavya Shivashankar.
NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND: It was perhaps the most exciting final the Scripps National Spelling Bee championship hosted, especially when it boiled down to only two contestants in the championship round, of the 88th iteration.
Both remaining contestants boasted of past familiarity with the competition – Gokul Venkatachalam, 14, had finished third in the 2014 final, and Vanya Shivashankar had the additional burden of being the winner of the $100,000 ‘Child Genius’ competition earlier this year, and a reputation to uphold, with this being her last chance of glory at the bee, on a fifth appearance at that. Not to mention that she badly wanted to emulate her sister Kavya Shivashankaran, who six years ago had lifted the trophy. Vanya was seven years old then.
To the astonishment of the audience, watching it live here and on TV, even as the words started to seem unpronounceable and tougher with each minute, and even those who played the ESPN ‘play along’ version floundered despite multiple choice answers, the duo confidently strode up to the mike on stage and crunched it faster, with consummate ease at that.
It was an exemplary show of sang-froid, with distinct personalities of the two winners emerging. The common factor: each tackled word after word with confidence and composure; great body language and attitude. Hallmarks of true sporting champions.
The words basket of 25 championship words quickly dwindled. When Shivashankar spelt the word “scherenschmitte” correctly, the pressure was squarely on Venkatachalam to get the next word right, or be relegated to the also-ran, like last year.
And it was undoubtedly the best ending to a Scripps final ever, as Venkatachalam, either in a show of bravado, or to display that he could have perhaps reeled off the entire dictionary Thursday night, and still kept going – nonchalantly spelt out the word ‘nunatak’ without hesitation and almost instantly after he heard it. he didn’t bother to even ask the judges for the language of origin or definition, as he had the whole night, to the word given to him. It perhaps earned him a million fans instantly.
After the trophies were handed out, the checks dispensed, and the hall cleared out, The American Bazaar caught up with Gokul and Vanya, their parents, and also with Kavya, sister of Vanya, for interviews.
Watch the videos below and listen to how the winners mastered the bee; how many hours they spent daily working on it, and what role their parents played in their success.
Listen to the mantra Gokul followed to be calm under pressure, and what he has to say about his mother:
Listen to what Vanya has to say about the word she got to clinch the championship:
Listen to what the proud but humble ‘Bee Father’, the father of Vanya and Kavya, has to say about his role in coaching his daughters:
Listen to the philosophy of how he and his wife went about coaching their son Gokul for the ultimate prize:
And listen to past champion Kavya Shivashankar expound on the amazing run of Indian American candidates, who have now won the Scripps bee championship for the eighth consecutive time, and her role in coaching Vanya: