“Brianna soon learned that running on wet cipollino in her favorite panda slippers is not the best way to deliver a birthday cake,” Bailly said Thursday night in the pressure cooker of a convention center ballroom at National Harbor.
Payra shifted onstage, took a deep breath and spelled: “C-I-P-O-L-I-N-O.”
He had missed the second “l.” He was gone, the 86th National Spelling Bee’s seventh-place finisher, having hit his mark on “panjandrum” and “sansculottic” and “catawba” before hearing the dreaded elimination bell.
It was the sound of doom at the World Series of Words.
Crowd favorite Amber Born attempted to preempt it when she flamed out on “hallali” after nailing five words (and plenty of punch lines) during the high-intensity finals.
“That’s not right,” she said immediately upon misspelling the word.
The only speller who didn’t hear it: Arvind Mahankali, a 13-year-old eighth-grader from Bayside Hills, N.Y., won finally won after finishing third, third and ninth in the previous three years.
His winning word: “knaidel,” a small mass of leavened dough — appropriate, given that he collected $30,000 for the win.
He defeated Pranav Sivakumar, a 13-year-old eighth-grader from Tower Lakes, Ill., who incorrectly spelled “cyanophycean” (a blue-green alga).
It marked the sixth consecutive year that a teenager of South Asian descent won the Scripps National Spelling Bee championship and the first time since 2008 that a boy took the title.
Knaidel is a German-derived word, and when it was given to Mahankali, the crowd groaned given the history: Mahankali was eliminated in 2011 and 2012 on German words. On Thursday, he correctly spelled “dehnstufe” late in the finals, then won with knaidel.
“The German curse has turned into a German blessing,” he said after his win.
The first elimination of the high-stakes finals — broadcast live, in prime time, on ESPN — came early in the first round, when Nikitha Chandran, a 13-year-old eighth-grader from Valrico, Fla., misspelled “pathognomonic” (characteristic of a particular disease).
The second round claimed Christal Schermeister, a 13-year-old from Pembroke Pines, Fla., who got a single letter wrong in “doryline” (a migratory tropical ant).
Grace Remmer, a home-schooled 14-year-old from St. Augustine, Fla., spelled three words correctly in the finals (“greffier,” “lefse,” “emmeleia”) before stumbling over “melocoton,” a word, she explained later, she’d only seen once before.
Earlier, the annual bee added an extra element of disappointment to its final day when some of the semifinal survivors were dismissed without having misspelled a single word onstage.
Of the 18 young word nerds who spelled their two words successfully, only 11 advanced in the first year of a new format in which results of computer-based tests were used to determine the finalists. There was no elimination bell for the other seven — they just didn’t hear their names called at the end of the semifinals.