NATIONAL, HARBOR MARYLAND – Tears were shed, high-fives exchanged and victory poses struck at the dramatic conclusion to the 2012 Spelling Bee finals Thursday evening, with Snigdha Nandipati, a 14-year-old California native, crowned the winner after effortlessly spelling “guetapens,” a French-derived term for “ambush.”
“I knew it, I’d seen it before,” Snigdha, still in a visible state of disbelief after her victory, said of the word that ultimately won her first place at the contest in Maryland — and nearly $40,000 (¥3.1 million) in combined prize money.
Haruka Masuda, 12, an avid reader and future U.N.-aspirant, was Japan’s sole representative at the event, after winning The Japan Times Spelling Bee in March to advance to the global stage. She was unable to reach the semifinals.
Surrounded by family, including her grandparents who crossed the Pacific to cheer her on, Snigdha, the daughter of Indian immigrants, described her 6- to 12-hour per day study regimen — longer hours at weekends, fewer on weekdays — to the audience, and admitted that although she was familiar with all the words fired at her, she was less certain about some posed to her cofinalists.
This year’s Spelling Bee pitted 278 contestants, ranging in age from elementary to junior high school students, against each other in a do-or-die battle. After a computer test and two vocal rounds, the spellers were whittled down to 50 semifinalists who clashed swords in two rounds earlier Thursday. Those left standing then engaged in a titanic struggle for the ultimate prize.
The international event this week showcased spelling prodigies from across the globe, ranging from Jamaicans to Chinese and Ghanaians, and included the youngest contestant in Spelling Bee history — 6-year-old Virginian Lori Anne C. Madison, who bowled over the audience but didn’t make it to the final 50.
The contestants were judged using Webster’s Third New International Dictionary as gospel, necessitating long hours of study to memorize both the spelling and meaning of words.
The spellers were allowed to ask four questions about the words presented: etymology, definition, usage of the word in a sentence and an alternative pronunciation. When faced with a particularly difficult word, some contestants lightheartedly asked to hear the spelling.
Masuda, Japan’s entrant, was born in the Philippines and attends the Shibuya Kyoiku Gakuen Makuhari Junior High School. She failed to make the semifinals, but was able to strut her stuff by correctly spelling “kibitzer,” a term derived from Yiddish that describes someone who interferes or offers unwanted advice.