NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND – Wednesday marked the end of the road for Ariya Narayanasamy, winner of this year’s Japan Times Bee, as he failed to advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee Finals.
Despite correctly spelling each word he was given on stage, Narayanasamy’s score on a written exam Monday was not strong enough to place him in the top 50 remaining spellers.
The 12-year-old spelled “bandicoot” Tuesday without trouble and deftly navigated his way around the unfamiliar word “pyrexia” Wednesday morning. He had never seen it before but worked methodically to deconstruct the pronunciation of the word and put it back together letter by letter.
“Spelling requires concentration and problem solving,” he said later. “You have to know which letters go where. I traced the origins of the word; it was Greek. So I knew there was a ‘y.’ The ‘x’ was challenging to figure out. It’s not usually used in Greek in that way. At the end, I just had to guess a little bit.”
With that little educated guess, he went two for two on the stage of the U.S.’s pre-eminent spelling contest held each year in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside Washington.
When Narayanasamy first began spelling competitively, he never dreamed of being on such a big stage. His aspirations were more humble, he said. “I just took it as a fun way to express myself.”
That enthusiasm, paired with a strong work ethic and appetite for problem-solving, led Narayanasamy to compete at the India International School championship, then the Japan Times Bee, and finally to the U.S. bee.
Having done all he could, for the time being, Narayanasamy spent Wednesday afternoon waiting to hear if his written exam score had been enough to put him over the top. But he did not make the cut.
“I’m definitely disappointed that I couldn’t make it, but I came this far — and I didn’t expect to. I was proud of myself,” he said.
Of the competitors who excelled in both oral on-stage rounds, 50 were selected for the final round Thursday based on the results of the written exam, which tested knowledge of both spelling and vocabulary definitions.
Narayanasamy said even though he is not moving on in the competition, he is walking away with new relationships and a better appreciation for the art, science, and competition of spelling.
“What I liked the most were the experiences, like making new friends and being on stage. This opens a new area of opportunity. Spelling has helped me a lot,” he said.
Narayanasamy’s parents, who accompanied their son to the U.S., said they were proud of his performance and the opportunity he earned to compete. “Him being here in Washington for this competition was a big deal,” said his father, Matheswaran. “Not everybody gets to have this chance. It’s fantastic.”
The Japan Times sponsored the younger Narayanasamy’s trip, including airfare for one parent.
The Indian remains forward-focused. Soon his attention will shift to the robotics competition he will participate in next month. There will be new friends, something to learn, and another problem to solve.