13-year-old Sameer Mishra spelled “guerdon” correctly to win the 2008 Scripps National Spelling Bee. The word, rather wonderfully, means “something that one has earned or gained.” Champion!
Sameer was a crowd favorite throughout the tournament. When told one of his words in the semifinals was a dessert, he deadpanned: “That sounds good right now.” He rolled his eyes and muttered “wonderful” when told that one of his words had five different language roots. He once asked “Are you sure there are no alternate pronunciations?” In another round, he uttered “That’s a relief” after initially mishearing the word “numnah” (a type of sheepskin pad).
And what did he have to say while hoisting the heavy trophy? “I’m really, really weak.” link
Seriously, this kid was a delight. The last desi to win was Anurag Kashyap in 2005. Only three years ago, but an eternity for a competition heavily loaded with over-achieving, heartbreaking desi kids.
As someone who can’t spell cat without spell-check, I never really paid attention to or understood the mesmerizing drama of spelling bees. Not until I recently saw the documentary Spellbound. Suddenly the years of study, weight of familial expectation, the children’s innocence and drive, the announcer’s voices, the rigid rules, the way personalities emerged in unexpected ways under crushing pressure…This was nail-biting, stomach-knotting suspense!! Hot damn!!
I caught a bit of the finals last night – this year seemed harder than ever before. After the jump, a list of the twelve finalists (five desis!) and the words faced by the last three standing in order of elimination.
Of 16 rounds, here are the final 4:
Sameer Mishra (Lafayette, Indiana) spelled hyphaeresis correctly.
Sidharth Chand (Pontiac, Michigan) spelled Kulturkampf correctly.
Tia Thomas (Coarsegold, California) spelled opificer incorrectly.
Sameer Mishra spelled taleggio correctly.
Sidharth Chand spelled introuvable correctly.
Second place winner Siddarth Chand is on the left, and two of the four fourth place finishers are center (Samia Nawaz) and right (Kavya Shivashankar). What is it about desis and spelling bees? We’ve posed the question before but appear to have answered it only partially, at best. Then again, the fact that desi kids also kick-ass in the geography bee might mean there is some truth to the idea that desis like gulping trivia like little brown pac-men. Whatever the case, I’m still scratching my head, spellbound.