A superhuman group of adolescents broke the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday, with eight contestants crowned co-champions after the competition said it was running out of challenging words.
It was a stunning result, coming just after midnight, for the 92nd annual event, which has had six two-way ties but had never experienced such a logjam at the top. After the 17th round, Jacques Bailly, the event’s pronouncer, announced that any of the eight remaining contestants who made it through three more words would share in the prize.
“We do have plenty of words remaining in our list, but we’ll soon run out of words that will challenge you,” Bailly told the contestants at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland.
He added: “We’re throwing the dictionary at you. And so far, you are showing this dictionary who is boss.”
None of the contestants faltered. They each got their own moment of triumph as they correctly spelled their words in the 20th round, then patiently sat back in their seats as the following contestants had their moments. They supported each other with high-fives and hugs, and each placed a hand on a single trophy.
The champions were, along with the final words they spelled:
Rishik Gandhasri, 13, of San Jose, California: auslaut.
Erin Howard, 14, of Huntsville, Alabama: erysipelas.
Saketh Sundar, 13, of Clarksville, Maryland: bougainvillea.
Shruthika Padhy, 13, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey: aiguillette.
Sohum Sukhatankar, 13, of Dallas: pendeloque.
Abhijay Kodali, 12, of Flower Mound, Texas: palama.
Christopher Serrao, 13, of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey: cernuous.
Rohan Raja, 13, of Irving, Texas: odylic.
The competition normally offers a $50,000 prize to the champion. Instead of splitting it eight ways, all eight contestants will receive $50,000 and their own trophies.
There have been marathon spelling bees before — the 2017 event went 36 rounds, with two spellers battling it out after the 17th round — but the competition has never hosted such a large group of spellers who could not be defeated. The field is typically winnowed down to fewer than four by 16th round.
This year, the ninth-place finisher, 13-year-old Simone Kaplan of Davie, Florida, was thwarted in the 15th round.
From that point on, the contestants correctly spelled 47 straight words.
Already nervous, they started showing signs of fatigue as the competition stretched on past its expected window. At the beginning of the 17th round, Rishik had a question for Bailly.
“Out of curiosity, would you happen to know what time it is?” he asked. It was 11:18 p.m.
It was one of several moments of levity from a group of students who appeared largely unfazed by the pressure, with their parents in the audience often looking more unsettled.
Rohan prompted laughter in the 17th round as he recoiled at his errant pronunciation of “Gaeltacht.”
“Oh God,” he said, “I sound like I vomited.”