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Florida 12-year-old Bruhat Soma wins 96th Scripps National Spelling Bee after competition’s second-ever spell-off

<i>Jacquelyn Martin/AP via CNN Newsource</i><br/>The final eight competitors of the Scripps National Spelling Bee pose for a group photograph after the conclusion of the semifinals
Jacquelyn Martin/AP via CNN Newsource
The final eight competitors of the Scripps National Spelling Bee pose for a group photograph after the conclusion of the semifinals

By Sydney Bishop and Christina Maxouris, CNN

(CNN) — Bruhat Soma, 12, of Florida won the 96th Scripps National Spelling Bee Thursday night after defeating all seven other finalists and beating his final competitor in the Bee’s second-ever spell-off.

Bruhat spelled 29 words correctly during that spell-off, while 12-year-old Faizan Zaki of Texas, spelled 20 words correctly. The two shared a handshake after Bruhat was announced this year’s champion.

Spell-offs are special rounds activated to determine a champion once the competition exceeds a certain time and there’s more than one competitor left, according to the Spelling Bee’s rules. In a spell-off, the contestant who spells the most words correctly in 90 seconds wins.

“When they first announced there was a spell-off, my heart was pumping so fast but then I realized – because I was practicing spell-offs for six months – I realized that, ‘Maybe I have a shot at winning,’” Bruhat told CNN’s John Berman and Kate Bolduan Friday morning. “And I did.”

The word that crowned Bruhat champion: abseil.

He calls those 90 seconds “kind of exhilarating.”

“I’m really excited. It’s been my goal for this past year to win, and I’ve been working really hard,” Bruhat said while still on stage, clutching his trophy. “I really can’t describe it, I’m still shaking.”

To get to his trophy, Bruhat correctly spelled habitude, indumentum, dehnstufe, Okvik and Hoofddorp, and correctly defined “sine qua non.”

Many watching on air noticed Bruhat’s method of “typing” the words while on stage by pantomiming pressing the correct keys for each letter. Bruhat told CNN this motion comes from his practice of typing words into spelling practice websites, and doing so on stage “simulates that experience.”

All the preparation – 10 hours of practice on weekends and six hours on weekdays, he told CNN – worked in Bruhat’s favor. The seventh-grader will take home a $50,000 cash prize, among other rewards.

More than 240 spellers competed in this year’s Spelling Bee this week – and eight made it to Thursday night’s finals.

The final kicked off Thursday night at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, following preliminary, quarterfinal and semifinal segments on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The competition’s start this year also featured a short video message from first lady Dr. Jill Biden, who shared she was also once a school Spelling Bee competitor.

“The President and I can’t wait to cheer you on,” she said in the message.

In addition to Bruhat and Zaki, the finalists included: YY Liang, 12, from New York; Aditi Muthukumar, 13, from Colorado; Shrey Parikh, 12, from California; Ananya Rao Prassanna, 13, from North Carolina; Rishabh Saha, 14, from California; and Kirsten Tiffany Santos, 13, from Texas.

Rishabh and YY were eliminated in the final’s first round after spelling their words – desmotrope and immanent, respectively – incorrectly. After all six remaining contestants breezed through the final’s vocabulary round, Kirsten Tiffany was then eliminated when she misspelled apophasis incorrectly. In a later round, Aditi was knocked out of the competition by the word Lillooet. Shrey spelled the word kanin incorrectly. Ananya Rao spelled the word murrina incorrectly.

Bruhat had previously competed in the Spelling Bee in 2022, when he tied for 163rd place, and in 2023, when he tied for 74th place, according to the competition’s website. He loves to play badminton, Ping-Pong and basketball – and his favorite player is LeBron James.

This year’s spellers – all age 15 or under – came from all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and Department of Defense Schools in Europe. The Bahamas, Canada and Ghana were also represented among the spellers, according to the Bee’s official website.

The last time there was a spell-off was in 2022, when winner Harini Logan earned her title of queen bee after spelling 22 words in a minute and a half.

While there have been many co-winners, including an eight-person tie in 2019, the spell-off round seeks to weed out the competition to just one champion. According to the 2024 rulebook, there are many instances where a spell-off will be activated, all involving the possibility of no winner at the end of the live broadcast.

While all finalists will receive a monetary prize plus other perks, the winner will receive the $50,000 cash, the official trophy, a reference library from Merriam-Webster and reference works from Encyclopedia Britannica, among other buzzworthy prizes.

Bruhat was also not the only one who returned to the competition after participating in previous Spelling Bees: as many as 65 spellers returned this year from previous Bees, including finalists Aditi, Shrey, Ananya Rao, Kirsten Tiffany and Faizan.

CNN’s Harmeet Kaur and Jacob Lev contributed to this report.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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