Saketh Sundar, 11, of Elkridge, Md., jumps up in the air after spelling his word correctly during the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, June 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

2 mature spellers stand out among 15 left at national bee

  • Jun. 1, 2017 12:30 a.m.

OXON HILL, Md. — As the Scripps National Spelling Bee inched its way through the four grueling rounds that would determine the primetime finalists, two spellers seemed like young men among boys and girls.

Sitting on opposite sides of the stage, veteran spellers Tejas Muthusamy and Shourav Dasari, both 14, handled their time at the microphone with ease and flair. Both came into the bee with high expectations and were among the 15 spellers competing Thursday night for a trophy and more than $40,000 in cash and prizes.

Shourav, of Spring, Texas, the tallest speller on stage at 5 foot 11, kept his hands inside the pocket of his black Nike hoodie and went through the motions of asking a few questions — definition, language of origin — about words he clearly knew. In the spelling bee equivalent of a bat flip in baseball, he turned away and began walking toward his seat before he even heard the words “you’re correct” from a judge.

“I just knew that I got it right,” Shourav said in his slight Texas drawl. “No need to stand around.”

Shourav was highly touted ahead of last year’s bee, having swept the two minor-league bees — the North South Foundation and the South Asian Spelling Bee — that serve as a proving ground for future champions. But he was eliminated just short of the primetime finals, continuing what some spellers refer to as the “Dasari family curse.” His older sister, Shobha, competed in the bees three times and also suffered some tough eliminations.

No matter how he fares later Thursday, the curse is over, he said.

“We’ve always gone out in the round before the night finals,” Shourav said. “That’s not an issue now.”

Shourav has grown 4 inches in the past year. Tejas, too, has matured from a round-faced, slightly chubby kid into a lanky and elegant teenager with wispy facial hair.

Tejas, from Glen Allen, Virginia, finished in the top 10 in 2014 and 2015. But last year, he was eliminated before the finals. He started studying again the day he got home, aiming to be more confident on stage this year. So far, so good.

His goal has been to win, but he’s come to a Zen-like understanding of what he called the “vicissitudes” of spelling bees. It hasn’t come easily.

“I’m a natural pessimist. Slowly I’ve understood that even champions who spell every word correctly don’t know every word in the bee,” Tejas said. “I’ve kind of accepted that.”

Tejas said he knew every word he’d been given before he stepped up to the microphone and was given “bucatini,” a pasta in the form of long, thin tubes. After making sure he got all the information about the word from pronouncer Jacques Bailly, he spelled it correctly and tipped his head back in relief.

While Shourav and Tejas survived, three previous top-10 finishers were eliminated: Siyona Mishra, Rutvik Gandharsi and Jashun Paluru. Siyona, the reigning South Asian Spelling Bee champion, went out on “corriedale,” a large, hornless sheep from New Zealand.

“She got a really hard word,” said Sylvie Lamontagne, who finished fourth last year and is now coaching younger spellers. “It always happens to someone.”

The remaining spellers also include Naysa Modi, already making her third appearance in the bee at age 11, and Rohan Sachdev, for whom spelling is a distraction from his first love, tennis. He’s the top-ranked player in his age group in his home state of North Carolina.

Rounding out the top 15: Shruthika Padhy, Ananya Vinay, Alex Iyer, Rohan Rajeev, Raksheet Kota, Alice Liu, Saketh Sundar, Sreeniketh Vogoti, Shrinidhi Gopal, Mira Dedhia, and Erin Howard.

No matter what happens later Thursday at a convention centre outside Washington, it’s all but certain that either Shourav or Tejas will leave disappointed. The bee has ended in a tie for three years running, but this year it added a written tiebreaker test in an attempt to identify a single champion.

As much as they might not admit it after thousands of hours of practice, luck remains a factor.

“The dictionary is so vast,” Tejas said. “A lot of spellers talk about conquering the dictionary. I don’t think that’s possible.”

Just Posted

Thousands expected at memorial for fallen police officer in Abbotsford, B.C.

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. — The streets of Abbotsford, B.C., will be lined with… Continue reading

One person dead, five others injured in early-morning crash in Kingston, Ont.

KINGSTON, Ont. — A man who was checking the damage on his… Continue reading

Gus is a special, collaborative art exhibit inspired by motherhood

The portrait display by mother and son is showing in Red Deer

Robotics challenge sparks student interest in Red Deer

Student-built robots compete in fun challenge

Accused murderer tells all to Mr. Big undercover officer

Joshua Frank tells undercover police officer he shot the Klaus family

WATCH: Central Middle School students’ Christmas tree

A group of Central Middle School students are set to show off… Continue reading

Chicken crosses B.C. road, stops traffic

Rooster makes early morning commuters wait in Maple Ridge

Red Deerian honours her brother who died in a motorcycle collision

Houaida Haddad is encouraging Red Deer residents to donate blood

Red Deer County firefighters to be recognized for Waterton help

RCMP brass will give formal recognition Monday

Ron James tries to lighten humanity’s load through humour

The comedian returns to Red Deer for shows Dec. 1 and 2

100+ Women Red Deer donate to Christmas Bureau

About $14,000 will help with Christmas hampers and toys

Semi collides with vehicle on Highway 2 north of Ponoka

Members of the Ponoka Integrated Traffic Unit dealt with a call on Highway 2 north of Ponoka

After 70 years, Red Deer veteran still remembers his traumatic war experience

Frank Krepps feels lucky to have survived the Second World War

Merritt Mountie charged with assault

Charges are in relation to an incident in May at the detachment, B.C. Prosecution Service said

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month