When competitors are up on stage at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, it comes down to one particular face-off: the speller versus the dictionary.
Just getting the chance to step onto the stage takes hard work and lots of time. For the finalists who make it to the finals, it feels like a vindication of it all.
"At least for me, it's taken years of preparation," finalist Prahnav Anandh said. "I've been participating since the third grade. So, it's gone from me not clearing my school to becoming a finalist. And over time, knowledge accumulates, and you're able to piece things more and more together."
For now, there is a joy these finalists get to share together for about 24 hours. Then, it's back on stage to see who among them will be the new champion.
It's a stage that Sarah Fernandes,11, of Omaha, Nebraska, said she can't wait to return to.
"The best part about being on the bee is being in front of all those people. Some people are here in the audience; some people are on TV," Fernandes said. "You're given to face a difficult challenge, a word, and you have to spell it right in front of a lot of people, and I find that like so special because there's nothing else that is equal to that feeling."
That feeling is part of what keeps the nearly century-old spelling bee young at heart, thanks to the youthful exuberance of the spellers.
"The relief part is still setting in. And the nerves you felt throughout the whole day are still setting out, coming out," said Arth Dalsania, another finalist.
While some of the words may seem to be tongue-twisters, in some ways, it's not the toughest challenge these spellers face. There is also the waiting, anticipation, and knowing how to handle the pressure.
"Sometimes, you'll reach a tough spot or be doing a particular list that's extremely difficult. I think the main thing to do is not give up," said finalist Shradha Rachamreddy. "So, after I missed on a word last year in the semifinals, I doubled my drive and basically worked even harder to make it to the finals this year."
It is a spelling journey that is now nearing its end for each finalist.
"We had 229 spellers, and now it's down to 11," said finalist Aryan Khedkar. "I'm very excited. I'm very happy. I can't believe I made it this far. I'm very proud of myself."
However, there can only be one winner thanks to the spelloff, which bee officials created after 2019, when there was an eight-way tie for the trophy. It was used for the first time last year, but the question remains: Will it be needed for the 2023 finals?
You can watch the live finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on ION Television.
Scripps News is a subsidiary of The E.W. Scripps Co., which runs the Scripps National Spelling Bee on a not-for-profit basis.
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