Scripps National Spelling Bee 2024: 'shock and despair' as 140 competitors eliminated

Dev Shah won the 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee in the United States (AP)
Dev Shah won the 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee in the United States (AP)

More than 100 spellers were on Wednesday (May 29) eliminated from the 96th edition of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

First held in 1925, this is a renowned annual competition in the United States that tests participants’ ability to spell words correctly.

Contestants must spell the word correctly within a set amount of time. They can ask for the word's definition, language of origin, part of speech, and use in a sentence to help them.

The 2024 event started on Tuesday, May 28, and ends on Thursday, May 30. It is being held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center hotel in Oxon Hill, Maryland, just outside Washington D.C.

Under executive director Corrie Loeffler, the battle has reportedly become harder and faster for spellers who advance past the preliminary rounds in the last three years.

AP News reported that some spellers would like the onstage, multiple-choice vocabulary questions — added to the competition two years ago — to be removed.

Former contestant Navneeth Murali told the agency: “It’s sort of hit or miss, the onstage vocab format, and it’s sort of brutal in my opinion.”

AP reported that the multiple-choice vocabulary questions prevented many spellers from putting their years of study into practice. This includes figuring out roots, asking judges questions to help piece together words, and determining which vowel makes the dreaded "uh" sound known as a schwa.

Scott Remer, a former speller who coached 21 competitors, said: “The words that are sometimes asked may not necessarily be based on roots or easily decipherable, and so in that case it becomes a case of which kids are natural readers and have a lot of cultural capital, and which kids aren’t as culturally sophisticated.” Additionally, spellers must win a regional competition to qualify. This can be extremely tense because there is no other route to the bee like there was in the late 2010s.

There were 148 spellers on the first morning of the 2024 competition.

Fifty-nine competitors remained at the end of the first quarter-final and 46 advanced to the semi-finals by passing a vocabulary round.

There were eight finalists left on Thursday.

The winner will receive a trophy and over $50,000 (£39,326) in cash and prizes.

Achyut Ethiraj is one of the spellers who failed to reach the final. The 14-year-old from Fort Wayne, Indiana, said (as reported by the Guardian via AP News), “I didn’t expect to get out, but I did, and I guess I have to accept the truth now.”

I’m happy to do high school and do other things, but I’m kind of confused what to do now that I’m done with spelling.

Achyut Ethiraj, 14, a Scripps National Spelling Bee 2024 competitor

He added: “I’m happy to do high school and do other things, but I’m kind of confused what to do now that I’m done with spelling. It’s my last year, and I expected to do better, but I guess it is what it is. And I have to move on.”

Another shocking elimination was Shradha Rachamreddy, who finished third last year and was expected to be champion this year.

Misspelling "orle" put her in third place last year. However, this year a type of reptile called "varan" eliminated her. Former spellers in the audience reportedly gasped at her error when she inserted an extra "r".

Last year’s champion Dev Shah said he was “in shock and despair”, while last year’s runner-up Charlotte Walsh added: “We all thought she was going to win.”

The bee's word panel can access more than 500,000 terms from Webster's Unabridged Dictionary. They even have some geographical names not in that edition.Although the panel attempts to keep the difficulty level constant from round to round, there may be variations from word to word.

The 2024 finalists are” Rishabh Saha, 14; Shrey Parikh, 12; Aditi Muthukumar, 13; Bruhat Soma, 12; YY Liang, 12; Ananya Rao Prassanna, 13; Faizan Zaki, 12; and Kirsten Tiffany Santos, 13.