WATCH: Unflappable 12-year-old Ananya Vinay wins National Spelling Bee
Ananya Vinay never looked all that impressed by any of the words she was given in the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The 12-year-old from Fresno, California, showed little emotion and didn’t take much time as she plowed through word after word. Sometimes she would blurt out questions, with little intonation — “Part of speech?” ″Language of origin?” — and sometimes she didn’t even bother.
Unflappable to the end, Ananya seized the opportunity when her steely opponent, Rohan Rajeev, flubbed a simple-looking but obscure Scandinavian-derived word, “marram,” which means a beach grass. She calmly nailed two words in a row, ending on “marocain,” which means a type of dress fabric of ribbed crepe, to win the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday.
“I knew them all,” Ananya said.
Ananya barely cracked a smile even when her parents and younger brother stormed onto the stage to embrace her as the confetti fell. And she took time to console Rohan, who remained in his seat, wiping tears from his eyes.
Cliff Owen/The Associated Press
“It’s like a dream come true,” Ananya said. “I’m so happy right now.”
Later, she flashed a broad and toothy grin as she lingered on stage accepting congratulations. She will take home more than $40,000 in cash and prizes.
It was the first time since 2013 that the bee declared a sole champion. After three straight years of ties, the bee added a tiebreaker test this year, and it looked like it might come into play as Ananya and Rohan dueled for 21 of the allotted 25 championship rounds.
Ananya was on the radar of some veteran bee watchers but didn’t come in with a high profile. Her score on the written spelling and vocabulary test would have been high enough to make the top 50 last year, but she missed a relatively easy word, “multivalent,” on stage.
“She panicked. It was not a hard word,” said her father, Vinay Sreekumar. “I think she learned from that and she consciously worked on it, how you shouldn’t panic, just focus on the word.”
As a sixth-grader, she could have come back for two more years, had she fallen short. Now, she’ll return only in a ceremonial role to help present the trophy to next year’s winner. And she’ll have to find time to watch her beloved Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals while enjoying the champion’s whirlwind media tour.