Zaila Avant-garde, 14, won the 90-year-old Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday by correctly spelling ‘Murraya,’ a genus of plants, staying cool after a near miss with a botanical word in a previous round.
Televised live on ESPN, complete with play-by-play commentary and interviews with the participants, the competition finals returned after being cancelled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. It was once again held before a live audience at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando.
Hailing from New Orleans, Avant-garde is also an accomplished basketball player, with several Guinness World Records to her name for dribbling multiple basketballs at a time.
Avant-garde claimed the $50,000 top prize after appearing relaxed and bantering with the judges and moderators, despite her struggle with ‘Nepeta,’ a word for another plant genus.
Pausing at the unstressed sound in the middle of word, she collected herself, started again, and nailed the second ‘e’, jumping for joy on stage when told she was correct.
Chaitra Thummala, 12, of San Francisco, came in second after mis-spelling ‘neroli oil,’ but still takes home $25,000.
Bhavana Madini, 13, of New York finished third with the $15,000 prize, after being eliminated on ‘athanor,’ a type of furnace.
This year’s competition added rules meant to avoid multiple co-winners, like the eight who shared the title in the ‘octo-champs’ contest in 2019.
Copyright 2021 Thomson/Reuters