The Revenant: Harini Logan fights for the spelling title


The Revenant: Harini Logan fights for the spelling title

OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — Harini Logan kept trying to learn from her near-misses with online spelling bees. Recognized for years as one of the finest spellers in the English language, she had never taken home a national title.

In the biggest bee of them all, she had to endure a new series of setbacks, but somehow she was still there in the end.

Harini was eliminated and then reinstated during the much-discussed multiple-choice vocabulary round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. She misspelled four times as Scripps’ most challenging words proved too much for her and Vikram Raju, who also got four wrong in the closing stages. And then she finally defeated Vikram on Thursday night in the Bee’s first-ever blitz round tiebreaker.

Name her spelling version of “The Revenant.”

“Harini has been to hell and back with her spelling bee experiences,” said her longtime trainer, Grace Walters.

The 14-year-old eighth-grader from San Antonio, Texas, who attended the last fully personal bee three years ago and survived the pandemic to make it back, spelled 21 words correctly during the 90-second lockdown. Beat Vikram at six. The winning word, according to Scripps, was ‘moorhen’, meaning the female of the grouse, for that was what got her past Vikram.

For the past few months, the always-prepared Harini had been practicing for the possibility of a blitz round, a format she found uncomfortable.

“To be honest, when it launched last year, I was a little scared,” Harini said. “I walk slowly. That’s my thing I didn’t know how I would do in this environment.”

Harini, a crowd favorite for her poise and positivity, wins more than $50,000 in cash and prizes. She is the first-ever Scripps champion to be reinstated during the competition. And that was before her four late stumbles.

“I think it would have been really easy for me to be put off and be like, ‘Wow, why am I missing so much?'” Harini said. “I think it was just a huge relief for me to really just focus on the next word and know I’m still at it.”

She is the fifth Scripps champion to be coached by Walters, a former speller, Texan, and student at Rice University who is considering retiring from the coaching business. Harini also got help from Navneeth Murali, who presented her with one of those runners-up in the 2020 SpellPundit online bee – a consolation prize for the Scripps bee canceled due to the pandemic.

It was Walters and Navneeth who, along with Harini’s mother Priya, rushed to the bee judges as soon as Harini left the stage in the vocabulary panel, in what seemed to be their most devastating disappointment of all.

“My heart stopped for a second,” Harini said.

Harini defined the word “pullulation” as the nesting of mating birds. Scripps said the correct answer was the swarm of bees. Her supporters made it clear to the judges that she got it right. A few minutes later, head judge Mary Brooks announced the reversal.

“After you were done, we did a little research on what our job is to make sure we made the right decision,” Brooks said. “We (did) dive a little deep into that word and indeed the answer you gave to that word is considered correct, so we’ll be hiring you again.”

From there, Harini stormed into the final against Vikram. You each spelled two words correctly. Then Scripps uttered the toughest words of the night.

Both spelled wrong. Then Vikram missed again and Harini got “sereh” right, which put her a word off the title. The word was “drimys” and she got it wrong.

Two more rounds, two more misspelled words each, and Scripps took out the podium and buzzer for the blitz round, which all the finalists had practiced for hours earlier in the mostly empty ballroom.

Harini was consistently faster and sharper, and the judges’ final record confirmed her victory.

“I knew I had to just blurt out the spelling that came out of my head, and I just had to be a little bit faster,” said Vikram, a 12-year-old seventh grader from Aurora, Colorado. who hopes to come back next year.

Vihaan Sibal, a 13-year-old from McGregor, Texas, finished third and also has an additional year of eligibility. Saharsh Vuppala, a 13-year-old eighth-grader from Bellevue, Washington, came fourth.

The last fully personal version of the bee did not have a tiebreaker and ended in an eight-way tie. The Bee returned last year in a largely virtual format, with just 11 finalists congregating in Florida how Zaila avant-garde became the first black American champion.

Harini is Indian-American and continues a trend that has lasted for two decades – 21 of the last 23 champions have South Asian roots.

Another change at this year’s Bee: Scripps ended his contract with long-time partner ESPN and produced his own television show for his networks ION and Bounce, with actor and literacy advocate LeVar Burton as host. The transition was bumpy at times, with long and uneven commercial breaks interrupting the action and audio glitches revealing the show’s inner workings to local audiences.

The bee itself was slimmer with less than half of the participants it was 2019 because of sponsor exits and the scrapping of a wildcard program. And the addition of live vocabulary questions during the semifinals and finals resulted in surprise eliminations.

Harini’s departure from a vocabulary briefly came as the biggest shock of all.

“It was all worth it in the end,” Walters said. “Every second place. Every thing. every tear All of it. This is the end Harini deserves.”


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