Meet Karthik Nemmani, your new Scripps National Spelling Bee champion.

The 14-year-old middle schooler from McKinney, Texas emerged victorious Thursday night after correctly spelling “koinonia,” a Greek word meaning Christian fellowship or communion, during the final round of the Bee. Nemmani’s win is particularly notable because this year’s tournament featured a record-breaking 515 contestants.

“I had confidence, but I didn’t think it would really happen,” Nemmani told his hometown paper The Dallas Morning News.

In addition to the confident demeanor he mentioned, Nemmani also benefited from a newly implemented rule called the “RSVBee,” which allows students who had previously been eliminated at the county bee level to get a second chance at competing at the national level. Previously, students who were eliminated in earlier bees would automatically be eliminated from advancing.

Until the very end, Nemmani’s skills were matched word-for-word by fellow Texan Naysa Modi, a seventh grader who was competing in her fourth consecutive national spelling bee. The 12-year-old Modi was eliminated on the word “bewusstseinslage,” a German word meaning, “a state of consciousness or a feeling devoid of sensory components.”

Nemmani’s win also continues the trend of contestants of Indian descent dominating the spelling bee. This year marks the thirteenth year in a row a student of Indian origin took home the spelling bee trophy. The new documentary “Breaking the Bee” explores the dominance of Indian Americans at the bee and puts that success in the context of the recent history of the United States.

“The spelling bee is this pop culture moment that people want to talk about,” director Sam Rega told us last month. “A lot of that has to be with ESPN deciding to broadcast the spelling bee starting in 1994. That makes it different from other competitions — the Geography Bee, for example, also has a lot of Indian-American participants, but that does not get nearly as much attention as the Spelling Bee does. Kevin Negandhi from ESPN hosts the Spelling Bee and to have something so connected to sports and that’s now covered like a sporting event, it is something everyone can connect to.”

Image credit: AP


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