Karthik Nemmani: Wildcard Candidate From Texas Wins National Spelling Bee

National Spelling Bee winner was an alternate candidate.

The 91st Scripps National Spelling Bee is over, and the winner has been declared: 14-year old Karthik Nemmani of McKinney, Texas, clinched the victory on May 30 in Oxon Hill, Maryland, beating out more than 500 competitors through 18 rounds of competition with the word “koinonia.”

The Greek word defines the “intimate spiritual communion and participative sharing in a common religious commitment and spiritual community,” according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary.

For surviving to the end of 18 rounds on Thursday, Nemmani took home the championship trophy, $40,000, a set of encyclopedias, and a $2,500 savings bond, according to CNN.

Judges asked Nemmani after winning when he knew he would be able to spell the final word. He responded that he knew as soon as he heard the word. However, he remained humble about his victory, adding that second-place candidate Naysa Modi, 12, could easily have won as well.

“She’s a really, really good speller. She deserved the trophy as much as I did. I got lucky,” Nemmani said, admitting he did not know how to spell many of the words assigned to other participants, according to ESPN.

Modi lost when she left out the second “S” in the German word, “Bewusstseinslage.”

Nemmani was not originally slated to participate, because he originally lost to Modi in the county competition, failing to reach regionals. He was included as part of the new Scripps RSVBee system, which gives kids from competitive regions other opportunities to participate in the challenge.

His family relocated to the McKinney area in order to enroll Nemmani in a school that participates in the Scripps National Spelling Bee competition, according to The Sift. He has been participating in spelling bees since the age of 4.

Third place winner Abhijay Kodali, 11, came from the Dallas regional competition along with Modi. The Dallas region is one of the most competitive areas in the country for the national spelling bee, according to ESPN.

Nemmani is the 14th Indian-American to win the National Spelling Bee consecutively. The streak began in 2008, when winner Sameer Mishra beat other contestants by correctly spelling the word “guerdon.” Along with 14 consecutive wins, South Asians have also won 19 of the last 23 spelling bees.

The streak began in 1985 when South Asian Balu Natarajan first cinched a victory at the national level, according to the New York Times. The film, Breaking The Bee, explores the dominance of South Asians in the spelling bee competition.

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