Ananya Vinay, a 12-year-old sixth grader from Fresno, California, swept the 90th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee Thursday night after a tense final 25 rounds. She won on the word “marocain”; when asked post-win if she found her opponent a tough competitor, this shady genius said, “It was interesting to go back and forth for so many rounds.”
By the end, the bee was a true nail-biter, with Vinay and fellow finalist Rohan Rajeev, a 14-year-old eighth grader from Edmonds, Oklahoma, were seemingly unflappable into the 30th round well past 11 p.m.—after both had been competing since 10 a.m. At a certain point it seemed as though the two would never encounter an unspellable word and that they should just call it a day and go form a joint think tank—particularly after Rajeev mastered “cheiropompholyx,” a kind of skin disease, and Vinay correctly spelled “Tchefuncte,” which relates “to an ancient culture of Louisiana.”
But “marram,” a word of Scandinavian origin referring to a type of beach grass, gave Rajeev some trouble, his first misspelled word in 13 hours. Vinay’s task to keep him from the title was to spell two more words correctly: first the inconceivable “gifblaar,” a word of Afrikaans origin describing a type of shrub, and then the winning “marocain,” a style of dress fabric. Upon her win, she looked unfazed until her family joined her—particularly her awesomly expressive father, Vinay Sreekumar—and she flashed a wide grin. Ananya Vinay’s sort-of acceptance speech? “I knew them all.” Slay, my tween queen!
Vinay is the first girl to win the bee solo since Snigdha Nandipati’s 2012 win (in 2015, Vanya Shivashankar tied with Gokul Venkatachalam). She is also the 13th consecutive Indian-American winner; 18 of the last 20 bees were won by Indian-Americans.