Snigdha Nandipati heard a few words she didn’t know during the National Spelling Bee, but never when she stepped to the microphone.
Calm and collected throughout, the 14-year-old Indian-American from San Diego spelled “guetapens,” a French-derived word that means ambush, snare or trap, to win the 85th Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night. She beat out eight other finalists in the nerve-wracking, brain-busting competition.
After she spelled the word, she looked from side to side, as if unsure her accomplishment was real, and, oddly, she was not immediately announced as the winner. Applause built slowly, and a few pieces of confetti trickled out before showering her. Then her younger brother ran on stage and embraced her, and she beamed.
“I knew it. I’d seen it before,” Nandipati said of the winning word. “I just wanted to ask everything I could before I started spelling.”
A coin collector and Sherlock Holmes fan, Nandipati aspires to become a physician or neurosurgeon. She also plays violin and is fluent in Telugu, a language spoken in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
A semifinalist last year, Nandipati became the fifth consecutive Indian-American winner and 10th in the last 14 years, a run that began in 1999 when Nupur Lala won and was later featured in the documentary “Spellbound.”
Stuti Mishra of Florida finished second after misspelling “schwarmerei” which means excessive, unbridled enthusiasm. While many spellers pretend to write words with their fingers, the 14-year-old Mishra had an unusual routine she mimed typing them on a keyboard. Nandipanti and Mishra frequently high-fived each other after spelling words correctly during the marathon competition.
Coming in third for the second consecutive year was Arvind Mahankali of New York. At 12, the seventh-grader was the youngest of the nine finalists, and he has one more year of eligibility remaining.
Nandipati’s prize haul includes $30,000 in cash, a trophy, a $2,500 savings bond, a $5,000 scholarship, $2,600 in reference works from the Encyclopedia Britannica and an online language course.