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Adroit, perspicacious, habile kids faced off at 2024 Scripps National Spelling Bee

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

At a hotel just outside Washington last night, one event had everyone talking. The stakes were high, the guest list was exclusive, and the words were long.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANANYA PRASSANNA: OK, morbilliform. M-O-R-B...

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It was the 2024 Scripps National Spelling Bee. And just before the finals kicked off last night, we caught up with 12-year-old Isaac Garemo (ph) in the lobby.

ISAAC GAREMO: First of all, the hotel is excellent.

SUMMERS: He made it to the semifinals last year, spelling words like callosity. And this year, he came out to cheer on his older brother.

ISAAC: And I like the sense of community that Scripps National Spelling Bee builds here.

RISHABH SAHA: There are a bunch of supportive parents, and if I make a mistake or if I spell the word incorrectly, regardless, they'll show their respect for me, and they'll clap for me.

SHAPIRO: That's 14-year-old Rishabh Saha. He said it was his first time at the competition and...

RISHABH: Let me just say, this is my first time on live TV, so that is surely an experience.

SHAPIRO: Also radio. Saha breezed through words like theca, which Merriam-Webster defines as an enveloping sheath or case of an animal or animal part, also Eames, as in the chair. He cruised all the way to the final eight.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: There they are, our elite eight...

SUMMERS: And in that final stretch, he missed just one letter in the chemistry term desmotrope.

SHAPIRO: Never heard of that.

SUMMERS: Me either. And the judges, they congratulated him on tying for seventh place - get this - out of a field of 245 extremely sharp kids.

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UNIDENTIFIED JUDGE: You told me you wanted to have fun and that you were just excited to be here, and we are so excited for you. What an experience that you have had. Thank you and congratulations.

RISHABH: Thank you so much, everyone.

SHAPIRO: So about that No. 1 spot?

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JACQUES BAILLY: Brouette.

BRUHAT SOMA: B-R-O-U-E-T-T-E.

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BAILLY: Adelantado.

BRUHAT: A-D-E-L-A-N-T-A-D-O.

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BAILLY: Hyporcheme.

SHAPIRO: The top prize went to 12-year-old Bruhat Soma, who correctly spelled 29 out of 30 words during a 90-second-long tiebreaker round, often mock typing the words in the air with his hands.

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BAILLY: Aposiopesis.

BRUHAT: A-P-O-S-I-O-P-E-S-I-S.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL DING)

BAILLY: Abseil.

BRUHAT: A-B-S-E-I-L.

BAILLY: Bruhat Soma, you are the 2024 Scripps Nation Spelling Bee Champion.

SUMMERS: In an interview today with Here & Now, Soma said he and his dad had been preparing for months for precisely that kind of high-stakes lightning round.

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BRUHAT: My dad, he would create a list of 30 words. I would try to spell as many as I can correctly in 90 seconds. So we would just practice like that every day for six months, and then I knew I was ready.

SHAPIRO: So to Soma and all these amazing spellers and their families, we say C-O-N-G-R-A-T-U-L-A-T-I-O-N-S.

SUMMERS: Exclamation point.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
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