8 National Spelling Bee Co-Champions Crowned in Unprecedented Competition

In an unprecedented move, the Scripps National Spelling Bee was at a loss for words Thursday night when it crowned not one — not two — but, eight finalists as co-champions of the 2019 spelling contest.

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(Photo: Alex Wong / Staff, Getty)

The bee was in its third hour of the final round of 16 spellers when the voice of the competition, pronouncer Jacques Bailly, admitted that the competition may run out of words to give the students.

"Champion spellers, we are now in uncharted territory," Bailly told the packed crowd at Maryland's Gaylord National Harbor Convention Center and those watching in prime time.

"We do have plenty of words remaining on our list," he continued. "But we will soon run out of words that will possibly challenge you, the most phenomenal collection of super spellers in the history of this competition."

He went on to announce that after the 20th round, any speller still standing would be crowned a champion of the 94th Scripps National Spelling Bee. Rishik Gandhasri, Erin Howard, Saketh Sundar, Shruthika Padhy, Sohum Sukhatankar, Abhijay Kodali, Christopher Serrao and Rohan Raja spelled the final 47 words correctly in their historic walk-off victory, going through five consecutive perfect rounds.

Although the bee had decided to split the first- and second-place money in the event of a tie, those plans were quickly changed — and each speller was given the full $50,000 cash prize, in addition to a Scripps Cup.

From 2014-2016, the bee ended with co-champions. In 2017 and last year, it had a written tiebreaker test of spelling and vocabulary that would be used to identify a single champion if necessary. Ultimately, it wasn't needed, and bee officials decided the test was too burdensome and eliminated it.

Bee officials knew they were in uncharted territory when the early final rounds, designed to narrow the field from 50 participants to about 12, took over five hours and still brought a robust group of 16 kids to the finals.

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Paige Kimble, the bee's executive director, said officials developed a contingency plan for multiple champions on the spot Thursday after gauging the spellers' performance in the earlier final rounds.

"When we began to comprehend the mettle of our finalists, we began to think about what could possibly happen this evening," Kimble said. "We went into the evening with the plan that we executed on this evening."