Bruhat Soma rides an unbeaten streak to the Scripps National Spelling Bee title, winning tiebreaker – Chicago Tribune

Bruhat Soma was unbeatable before he arrived at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and neither the dictionary, nor his competitors, nor a lightning-round tiebreaker challenged him on the way to victory.

Bruhat spelled 29 words correctly in the tiebreaker, beating Faizan Zaki by nine, to win the title on Thursday night. He receives a trophy and more than $50,000 in cash and prizes.

The 12-year-old seventh-grader from Tampa, Florida, had won three consecutive bees before arriving at a convention center outside Washington for the most prestigious spelling competition in the English language.

The bee began with eight finalists, the fewest since 2010, and it was clear from the outset that Scripps was trying to fill the 2-hour broadcast window on Ion, a network owned by the Cincinnati-based media company. There were frequent lenghty commercial breaks that allowed spellers to mill about at the side of the stage, chatting with their coaches, relatives and supporters.

And then bee officials announced it was time for the tiebreaker, known as a “spell-off,” before Bruhat and Faizan were even given a chance to spell against each other in a conventional round.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — Bruhat Soma is undefeated in his last three spelling bees.

The 12-year-old won the Words of Wisdom bee hosted by Scott Remer, a former speller, coach and study guide author. He won the SpellPundit bee organized by that study guide company. And he won the first-ever online bee emceed by Dev Shah, last year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee champion.

“He’s competitive,” said Bruhat’s coach, 16-year-old former speller Sam Evans. “I mean, he likes winning.”

Bruhat, a seventh-grader from Tampa, Florida, will try to run his winning streak to four on Thursday night, when he competes for the National Spelling Bee title against seven other spellers, some of whom he vanquished in those other bees. The winner receives a brightly painted trophy and more than $50,000 in cash and prizes.

The number of finalists is the fewest since 2010, when Scripps had to stop a semifinal round out of fear it would bring too few spellers to the prime-time telecast, then on ABC. The bee is now broadcast on Ion — owned by Scripps, a Cincinnati-based media company — and when Wednesday’s last semifinal round had a lengthy delay after six of the first 10 spellers missed their words, a similar stoppage didn’t appear out of the question.

Scripps said the delay was due to the technical issues that plagued the bee all day. Live results weren’t posted as usual, and at one point, former champion Kavya Shivashankar, tasked with saying a heartfelt goodbye to spellers who heard the bell, was handed the biography of the wrong speller and began reading it before the crowd informed her of the mix-up.

Despite some surprising eliminations in the semifinals, the eight finalists are the usual impressive group — albeit on the young side. Only three are eighth-graders in their final year of eligibility: 13-year-old Kirsten Tiffany Santos of Richmond, Texas; 14-year-old Rishabh Saha of Merced, California; and 13-year-old Aditi Muthukumar of Westminster, Colorado.

The rest are in sixth or seventh grade: 12-year-old Shrey Parikh of Rancho Cucamonga, California; 12-year-old Faizan Zaki of Allen, Texas; 12-year-old YY Liang of Hartsdale, New York; and 13-year-old Ananya Prassana of Apex, North Carolina.

Shrey and Faizan are close friends with Bruhat, and all three are tutored by Evans.

“I’m not really surprised that any of my students have made it this far. I know that they are all prepared. They have what it takes to win, all of them,” Evans said.

Bruhat in particular has impressed his coach and other onlookers with his clear command of the dictionary.

“We get through so many words per class, more than I’ve seen with any other speller. His work ethic is incredible,” Evans said. “Once he misses a word, he very rarely would miss it again. He sees it and he remembers it.”

Faizan became a crowd favorite during the semifinals for his fist-pumping excitement when he spelled correctly, and for his empathy — he rushed over and gave a big hug to his good friend Aryan Khedkar when Aryan was eliminated.

“It was just so sad to see him lose in his last year,” Faizan said. “So I just wanted to be supportive and, like, get him through this tough time.”

Aditi won the Colorado state spelling bee after a lengthy duel with her younger sister, Aadhya, who’s in fifth grade. She tied for 74th in last year’s Scripps bee but began studying harder and working with Remer to try to make a big leap.

“When we started working together, she had some holes and gaps. But what I was impressed with was the rate with which she improved,” Remer said. “She assimilated the material from the lessons pretty smoothly and flawlessly.”

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