In just under two hours on Thursday evening, the upstart SpellPundit Online National Spelling Bee produced a winner. The virtual bee came about to replace the canceled Scripps National Spelling Bee (see Ex-spelled but Not Out of the Game), which would have occurred on the same night.
Siblings and former competitive spellers Shourav and Shobha Dasari hosted the bee in part out of concern for eighth-graders who would lose eligibility after this year due to age.
The winner of Thursday night’s bee was no surprise. Navneeth Murali is a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Edison, New Jersey. He came in with the most extensive spelling résumé of anyone in the competition. In the final round, the field had narrowed to just three. The two other remaining spellers misspelled words back to back before Navneeth’s turn. Victory was his for the taking, and he didn’t miss the opportunity.
His word was “Karoshthi.” It’s an ancient, cursive script of Aramaic origin (one of the languages spoken in Jesus’ time). Navneeth plowed through it quickly and confidently to claim the title.
Host and SpellPundit co-founder 17-year-old Shourav announced the conclusion of the bee to the assembled spellers over Zoom. “So, yeah, you’re the champion of the SpellPundit Online National Spelling Bee,” he said as he cued a pixelated image of confetti falling on his own screen.
The SpellPundit bee concluded on the same night Scripps would have held its grand finale inside a packed convention center ballroom on the Potomac River outside Washington, D.C. This year’s bee was canceled because the coronavirus pandemic made travel difficult and large gatherings unsafe.
Navneeth takes home a bit more than $2,500 in prize money from the online bee. He and other spellers, their parents, and supporters are still trying to convince Scripps to come up with an alternative for this year’s eighth-graders since that competition’s prize money is much larger.
What’s next for Navneeth? “I might pursue something in the competitive science field,” Navneeth says. “My main focus right now is to do well in high school.”
(This screenshot shows spellers in the SpellPundit Online National Spelling Bee participating in semifinals on Tuesday night, May 26, 2020. SpellPundit via AP)