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Arvind Mahankali of New York wins Scripps National Spelling Bee after addition of first vocab test

10:03 PM, May 30, 2013   |    comments
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Arvind Mahankali of Bayside Hills, N.Y., correctly spells "knaidel" to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee. (Photo: Jeff Franko, USA TODAY)
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  • OXON HILL, Md. (WUSA9) -- Arms behind his back in his signature stance, Arvind Mahankali spells on his hand, looking up at the pronouncer as he correctly spells "tokonoma."

    "Arvind, since you are the only speller left in this round, if you spell this next word correctly you will be the 2013 Scripps Spelling Bee Champion," a voice says from the judges' table.

    Tracing letters on his hand with his finger, Arvind confidently looks up and spells a word meaning a small mass of leavened dough: "k-n-a-i-d-e-l."

    German words have lead Arvind, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y., to his spelling-bee demise for the last two years when he placed third at the bee.

    "Arvind, you are the champion," the judge announced as confetti shot up over his head covering the stage.

    This will be the first time since 2008 that a boy has won the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

    "The words were extremely hard," Arvind says. "The German curse has turned into a German blessing."

    It was a stressful three days of computerized spelling and vocabulary quizzes and round after round of spelling on stage. It didn't make it any easier that ESPN was broadcasting.

    Jumpy spellers have to pause for commercial breaks, ignore giant cameras in their faces and listen as anchors made jokes about struggling through the addition of vocabulary quizzes to this year's bee.

    All of the pomp and circumstance did little to calm the nerves the remaining spellers. The group of "spellebrities," as they've been dubbed by spelling bee staff, started with 281 contenders on Tuesday morning. By Thursday's semifinals, 42 of them remained.

    At 8 p.m. Thursday night, in front of their family, friends and the world, 11 finalists took the stage. Arvind walked away the winner. He takes with him a shiny, engraved trophy and the title of "champion." He also receives $30,000 cash, a $2,500 U.S. savings bond from Merriam-Webster and $2,000 worth of reference works from Encyclopedia Britannica.

    The bee, while often intense, isn't all serious: ESPN taped fake AT&T commercials with the spellers and also did short video bits on some of them. Spellers share a bit about their lives and what is interesting about themselves, aside from being a world-ranked speller.

    The champion isn't allowed to return to spell at the bee. But Arvind already knows how he will fill his time. "I will spend the entire day studying physics," he says, drawing a laugh from the crowd. "I am retiring on a good note."

    As for the rest of the spellers? Back to studying in hopes of making it to next year's bee.

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