Harini Logan was once dropped from the Scripps National Spelling Bee, then reinstated. She missed four words in the grueling standoff against Vikram Raju, including one that would have given her the title.
In the tiebreaker of the first lightning round, Harini finally claimed the trophy.
The 13-year-old eighth-grader from San Antonio, Texas, who competed in the final all-out individual bee three years ago and battled the pandemic to make it back, spelled 21 words correctly during a 90-second spell-off Ki, beat Vikram by six.
The doe, one of the most famous spellcasters to enter the beehive and a crowd favorite for her poise and positivity, wins over $50,000 in cash and prizes.
Perhaps none of the champions had more final-round flub, but Harini was less deserving either.
She is the fifth Scripps champion to be coached by Grace Walters, a former speller, fellow Texan, and student at Rice University who is considering exiting the coaching business. If so, she will move to the top.
The pivotal moment came during the much-discussed polyglot terminology of the bee, when the doe defined the term “pululation” as the nest of mating birds. Scripps said the correct answer was a swarm of bees.
Chief Justice Mary Brooks told Harini, “We did a little research after you finished, which is our job, to make sure we made the right decision.” “We (did) dive a little deeper into that word and actually the answer you gave to that word is believed to be correct, so we’re going to restate you.”
From there, Harini entered the final against Vikram. Each of them spelled two words correctly. Then Scripps pulled out the toughest words of the night.
Both misspelled. Then Vikram missed again and Harini corrected “Sereh”, removing a word from the title. The word was “drimis”, and he got it wrong.
Two more rounds, two more misspelled words each, and Scripps took out the podium and buzzer for the Lightning round, which was practiced by all the finalists in the mostly empty ballroom hours before.
Harini was faster and faster the whole time, and the judges’ final tally confirmed her victory.
The final fully individual version of the Bee had no tiebreakers and ended in an eight-way tie. The 2020 Bee was canceled due to the pandemic, and in 2021 it was mostly virtual, with only 11 finalists gathered in Florida as the Jella avant-garde became the first black American champion.
The change continued this year with Scripps ending its deal with longtime partner ESPN and producing its own broadcasts for its 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 that sabotaged the action and audio glitches that exposed the inner workings of the broadcast to in-person crowds.
Bee itself was lean, with less than half the participants in 2019 due to the running out of sponsors and the end of the wild-card program. And Speller got to answer vocabulary questions live on stage for the first time, resulting in several surprise takedowns during the semifinals.
Harini’s leaning on a vocabulary word was in essence the biggest shock of all. Then she was back on stage, and in the end, she was still there.