NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND – Less than three months after winning the 2019 Japan Times Bee, Ariya Narayanasamy spelled himself into the next round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Tuesday.
The 12-year-old from Tokyo correctly spelled “bandicoot” and will compete in round three on Wednesday.
Hosted in National Harbor just outside of Washington, the contest is the premier U.S. spelling competition. The event drew hundreds of spellers from all 50 states and seven other countries.
Narayanasamy earned his ticket to compete this week by out-spelling 39 other students at a spelling bee contest organized by The Japan Times in March. Then a student at the India International School campus in Tokyo, he was locked in a dead heat with the other remaining finalist before correctly spelling “forbearance” to win the entire competition.
His victory in Tokyo made for a close finish. But — as Narayanasamy acknowledged Monday night before the start of the on-stage oral competition — he anticipated a significant increase in the difficulty of the words he would be asked to spell in the Scripps Bee.
Narayanasamy approached the microphone on stage late Tuesday morning before the largest crowd he has ever spelled in front of. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, the U.S. contest’s moderator Jacques Bailly asked him to spell “bandicoot.”
To help deconstruct a word with which they may be unfamiliar, competitors are permitted to ask for the pronunciation, language of origin and definition of the word they are asked to spell.
The moderator can also provide a sample sentence that correctly uses the word. These are the only tools available to spellers on stage.
But Narayanasamy did not need any of them.
“Once Dr. Bailly said the word, I knew I knew the word,” Narayanasamy said. “I said to myself: ‘OK, I can spell this word.’ So, I just had to take my time and get every single letter right.”
To force himself to slow down, Narayanasamy asked the moderator to read the definition of “bandicoot” and its language of origin. While Bailly described the Telugu word, meaning “certain … insectivorous and herbivorous marsupial mammals found in Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea,” Narayanasamy was busy neatly arranging nine letters in his head, then out loud: “B-a-n-d-i-c-o-o-t. Bandicoot.”
A second moderator waited just a beat before announcing Narayanasamy’s spelling of the word was correct. The audience broke into applause, as they did for every speller on Tuesday.
Of the record 562 competitors who spelled on stage Tuesday, 518 advanced with Narayanasamy to the third round.
Competitors who both spell correctly in round three and who scored high enough on a paper exam taken Monday will participate in the finals on Thursday.
Narayanasamy will prepare for the next phase of competition the same way he always has: a little bit of studying, a little bit of meditation and a little bit of YouTube, to take the edge off.
Only one international competitor, from South Korea, was eliminated on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, competitors were asked to spell words from a set list of 600. Spellers had the opportunity to study the list ahead of time. The list included words from languages around the world, including those of Japanese origin like “koto,” “daikon” and “tamari.”
Starting with round three, there will be no pre-culled list for competitors to study. Instead, words will be pulled from the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, of which there are hundreds of thousands to choose from.
As a victorious Narayanasamy returned to his seat, the corners of his mouth curling into a small smile, the next competitor took the stage and Bailly read the next word: “forbearance.”