NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Two Houston-area students made it deep into the final round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee Thursday night.
Shourav Dasari of The Woodlands came in fourth place, and Raksheet Kota of Katy tied for fifth Thursday night.
The two students spoke with Great Day Houston's Deborah Duncan earlier this week.
Ananya Vinay of Fresno, Calif., is the winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Ananya, a 14-year-old sixth-grader, captured the championship title by correctly spelling “marocain,” which is a dress fabric made from silk or rayon, during the finals of the 90th annual competition Thursday night. The second-place finisher was Rohan Rajeev of Edmond, Okla.
Ananya’s victory concluded the bee’s three-year streak of ending in a tie. She wins $40,000 in cash, a trophy and other prizes.
The annual contest opened Tuesday with a record 291 spellers from across the country and the globe. The field was narrowed to 40 finalists on Wednesday, based upon two oral rounds of spelling and the results of a written spelling and vocabulary test.
By Thursday afternoon, just 15 spellers were still standing and went on to compete for the championship.
In the final rounds, which were broadcast live on ESPN, Rohan Sachdev of Cary, N.C., was the first at the microphone – and the first to fall. The 14-year-old misspelled “panniculitis,” which refers to an inflammation of abdominal fat.
The crowd inside the ballroom of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, just outside of Washington, gasped as Sreeniketh Vogoti, of St. Johns, Fla., missed “clafouti” by just one letter. The 14-year-old tacked an unnecessary “e” onto the end of the word for a French dessert consisting of a layer of fruit, such as cherries.
“How’s it going?” pronouncer Jacques Bailly asked Erin Howard of Birmingham, Ala., as she took her turn at the microphone.
“I don’t even know anymore,” the 12-year-old replied before incorrectly spelling Klydonograph, which is a device that records an electrical surge.
During the earlier rounds, no one was more surprised than Maggie Sheridan of Mansfield, Ohio, when she aced the word “whirlicote,” which is a luxurious carriage or coach.
“What?” the 13-year-old exclaimed incredulously when told she’d spelled the word correctly. She clasped her hands to her head, grinned and then headed back to her seat on stage as the audience roared its approval.
Her victory would prove to be short-lived. She missed “saccharomycete” in the next round and was eliminated from the competition.
The national bee is a high-profile, high-pressure endurance test as much as a nerd spelling match. The stress of competing against the dictionary was etched on many spellers’ faces as they took their turn at the microphone and in front of the television cameras.
“I’m pretty nervous,” Nikhil Lahiri, 14, of Painted Post, N.Y., confessed from the stage, just seconds before correctly spelling “outarde,” which is a Canadian goose.
Nikhil exited the stage during the next round after misspelling "coloboma," or a fissure of the eye. He spelled it "c-o-l-y-b-o-m-a."
"It really hurts," he said. "But at the same time, it's a really good learning experience, as well."
Varad Mulay, 13, of Novi, Mich., clasped his hands to his chin in prayer-like fashion and heaved a sigh of relief after correctly deconstructing “obmutescence,” which means becoming or keeping silent.
Melodie Loya, a sixth-grader from Bainbridge, N.Y., said it was nerve-racking spelling on stage. The 12-year-old was eliminated in the sixth round after incorrectly spelling "subauditur," which means something understood or implied in connection with what is expressed. But she wants to compete in next year’s bee, so she plans to take a week off and start studying again.
"When you get knocked down, you've got to get back up again," said her mother, Debbie Loya.
Spellers spend months preparing for the bee. For some, the prep work paid off big time, enabling them to conquer tongue-twisters that most people couldn’t even pronounce.
Samhita Kumar, 11, of Gold River, Calif., had no trouble with “cygneous,” which means curved like the neck of a swan.
Spellers often resorted to humor to break the stress of trying to decipher unfamiliar words.
“Uh, what is it?” asked 10-year-old Brendan Pawlicki, when given the Swedish word “desman.” (For the record, it’s an aquatic mammal that resembles a mole.)
Brendan, of Shelby Township, Mich., grinned and shook his head after spelling out “d-e-s-m-o-n-d.” Even before he heard the dreaded ding of the elimination bell, he knew he’d missed and would be removed from the competition.
As 11-year-old Shruthika Padhy of Cherry Hill, N.J., stepped to the microphone, pronouncer Bailly asked how she was doing.
“Depends on what word I get,” the sixth-grader replied. She got “sylloge,” which means a collection, and she nailed it.
A case of obliviscence could have been Grant Taylor’s downfall. The 14-year-old from Lubbock, Texas, missed the Latin word for forgetfulness and was eliminated in the fourth round.
Rutvik Gandhasri, 13, of San Jose, Calif., tripped over “auteur,” which refers to a filmmaker, and was knocked out of the competition. Sohum Sukhatankar, 11, of Allen, Texas, was stumped by “roussette,” which is a small shark or dogfish.
This year’s 291 spellers represented all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Department of Defense Schools in Europe. Eleven came from the Bahamas, Canada, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea.
USA TODAY reporters Herb Jackson and Nicole Gaudiano contributed to this story.