We’re still spitting out the slivers of fingernail we gnawed off during last night’s Scripps National Spelling Bee, the annual event that’s become a pop culture staple since the 2002 documentary Spellbound stamped it into our collective consciousness. The 2019 event was special, however, having ended with an astounding eight-way tie. Ties are nothing new in the bee, but Rishik Gandharsi, Erin Howard, Saketh Sundar, Shruthika Padhy, Sohum Sukhantankar, Abhijay Kodali, Christopher Serrao, and Rohan Raja nevertheless made history by spelling a stunning 47 consecutive words correctly. Instead of splitting the prize, they each received the $50,000 grand prize in full.
One might wonder, though, why the taskmasters in charge didn’t keep the bee rolling, tossing words like lit grenades until only one champion was left standing. According to Scripps’ pronouncer Jacques Bailly, they literally didn’t have challenging enough words on hand. “Champion spellers, we are now in uncharted territory,” Bailly said after hours upon hours of spelling. “We do have plenty of words remaining on our list. But we will soon run out of words that will possibly challenge you, the most phenomenal collection of super spellers in the history of this competition.”
There would be three rounds, Bailly noted, and anyone who got through them would be a champion. Words like bougainvillea, erysipelas, auslaut, and pendeloque subsequently failed to stump the remaining contestants, who declared each letter with the confidence of an in-sync cheer squad. The only loser, it would seem, is the dictionary itself.
Not everyone was impressed. “This would never happen at my bee,” said Rahul Walia, founder of the South Asian Spelling Bee. Per Associated Press, this spelling supervillain “said Scripps was just scratching the surface of words that could confuse or trip up elite competitors.” The gauntlet, friends, has been dropped.
For now, though, let us bask in the glory that is the “octo-champs,” the unification of which will surely lead to more spelling-related adventures and, at the very least, their own Saturday morning cartoon.