Harini Logan was knocked out of the Scripps National Spelling Bee twice before being re-entered. In a tense standoff with Vikram Raju, she flubbed four words, including one that would have earned her the title.
Harini finally won the award in the first-ever lightning-round tiebreaker.
The 14-year-old eighth-grader from San Antonio, Texas, who competed in the last totally in-person bee three years ago and survived the pandemic to return, spelled 21 words correctly in a 90-second spell-off, outspelling Vikram by six words.
Harini, one of the most well-known spellers in the competition and a fan favourite for her elegance and optimism, takes home more than $50,000 in cash and awards.
No champion has ever had as many final-round blunders as Harini, yet she was no less deserving.
Grace Walters, a former speller, fellow Texan, and Rice University student who is considering retiring from coaching, has coached her for the fifth Scripps championship. If that’s the case, she’ll leave first.
Harini defined the word “pullulation” as the nesting of mating birds during the much-debated multiple-choice vocabulary round for the bees. The proper answer, according to Scripps, is a swarm of bees.
But hold on! “We did a little sleuthing after you finished, which is what our job is, to make sure we’ve made the right decision,” head judge Mary Brooks said to Harini. “We (did) a little deep dive in that word and actually the answer you gave to that word is considered correct, so we’re going to reinstate you.”
Harini then cruised into the finals against Vikram. They each correctly spelt two words. Then Scripps said the night’s most vehement words.
Both of these words are misspelt. Vikram then missed again, but Harini got “sereh” correct, placing her one word away from the title. The word was “drimys,” and she mispronounced it.
After two more rounds, each of the finalists missed two more words, Scripps brought out the podium and buzzer for the lightning round, which all of the finalists had practised in the mostly empty ballroom hours before.
Harini was consistently faster and sharper throughout the competition, and the judges’ final tally confirmed her victory.
There was no tiebreaker in the final totally in-person iteration of the bee, which resulted in an eight-way tie. Because of the pandemic, the 2020 bee was cancelled, and the 2021 bee was mostly virtual, with just 11 finalists meeting in Florida to crown Zaila Avant-garde as the first Black American champion.
Scripps ended its long-term partnership with ESPN this year and produced its own programme for its networks ION and Bounce, with actor and literacy advocate LeVar Burton as host. The transition was rocky at times, with long and uneven commercial breaks interrupting the action and audio problems revealing the broadcast’s inner workings to the live audience.
Because of sponsors dropping out and the termination of a wild-card scheme, the bee has fewer than half the competitors it had in 2019. For the first time, spellers had to answer vocabulary questions live on stage, which resulted in numerous unexpected eliminations during the semifinals.
The biggest shock of all was Harini bowing out on a vocabulary term. She returned to the stage after that, and she was still there at the conclusion.