Karthik Nemmani took an unusual path to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. But on May 31, the 14-year-old walked out as its champion.
Karthik didn’t win his regional or his county spelling bee. In the past, that would have prevented him from participating in the national competition, held outside Washington, D.C. But this year, the bee started a new program, RSVBee. It allows students who did not win at the regional or state level to apply for a spot in the national bee.
Karthik made it to the bee through the RSVBee program. Then he beat 514 other spellers to win the title. His winning word was koinonia. It means Christian fellowship or communion.
In the championship round, Karthik faced off against 12-year-old Naysa Modi. Naysa has been coming to the national bee since she was 9. She is known as one of the nation’s best spellers. But in the championship round, Naysa misspelled Bewusstseinslage.
“She’s a really, really good speller. She deserved the trophy as much as I did,” Nemmani told the Associated Press. “I got lucky.”
This isn’t the first time the two have had a spell-off. Both live in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. Naysa beat Karthik in their county bee earlier this year. But Karthik does not see his national win as a triumph against Naysa.
“We weren’t against each other,” he said. “We were against the dictionary.”
As the winner, Karthik takes home more than $40,000 in cash and prizes.