OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — Bruhat Soma was unbeatable before he arrived at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and neither the dictionary, nor his competitors, nor a lightning-round tiebreaker challenged him on the way to victory.

Bruhat spelled 29 words correctly in the tiebreaker, beating Faizan Zaki by nine, to win the title on Thursday night. He receives a trophy and more than $50,000 in cash and prizes.

The 12-year-old seventh-grader from Tampa, Florida, had won three consecutive bees before taking the stage at a convention center outside Washington for the most prestigious spelling competition in the English language.

“I always want to win. And this was, like, my main goal,” Bruhat said. “It didn’t matter if I won all those other bees. This is what I was aiming for. So I’m just really happy that I won this.”

The bee began with eight finalists, the fewest since 2010, and it was clear from the outset that Scripps was trying to fill the 2-hour broadcast window on Ion, a network owned by the Cincinnati-based media company. There were frequent lengthy commercial breaks that allowed spellers to mill about at the side of the stage, chatting with their coaches, relatives and supporters.

And then bee officials announced it was time for the tiebreaker, known as a “spell-off,” before Bruhat and Faizan were even given a chance to spell against each other in a conventional round.

“I do wish that we would have gotten to see more of a duel between them,” said Charlotte Walsh, who dueled with Dev Shah last year and finished as the runner-up. “It’s a really interesting choice to go straight into the spell-off.”

Bruhat went first, and after he got through 30 words, it appeared it would be impossible to beat. Faizan’s pace was more uneven at the outset. He attempted 25 words but flubbed four of them.

Scripps said Bruhat’s winning word was “abseil,” defined as “descent in mountaineering by means of a rope looped over a projection above.” In the tiebreaker — which was used once before, when Harini Logan won in 2022 — the winning word is the one that gives a speller one more correct word than their competitor.

Shortly after Bruhat was showered with confetti and handed the trophy, Faizan was in tears at the side of the stage, accepting hugs from other spellers. A few minutes earlier, he had hugged his good friend, Shrey Parikh, after Shrey was eliminated onstage.

Faizan spelled his final word in the regular competition in walk-off fashion, dashing through “nicuri” without asking a single question and striding back to his seat, a moment that recalled Shourav Dasari’s mic-drop spelling of “Mogollon” in 2017.

But the 12-year-old sixth-grader from Allen, Texas, wasn’t given a chance to do it again.

“I definitely think they should have been given an opportunity to have some conventional spelling rounds before they defaulted to the spell-off,” said Scott Remer, one of four coaches who worked with Faizan. “I don’t think it really needs an additional injection of drama through artificial means.”

The competition rules state that a spell-off is used in the interest of time, but Scripps still found time for another commercial break between the tiebreaker and the announcement of Bruhat’s victory.

Coming into the competition, Bruhat won the Words of Wisdom bee hosted by Remer, a former speller and study guide author. He won the SpellPundit bee organized by that study guide company. And he won the first-ever online bee emceed by Dev, last year’s Scripps champion.

His last loss was in September at the WishWin senior spelling bee. He missed on “Gloucester,” a cheese named for the city in England. He said he knew the city but didn’t know it was also a cheese, and he guessed “glaucester.”

“After that, I guess I just went on a winning streak,” he said.

As unstoppable as he appeared on stage, Bruhat said there was one word he didn’t know: “tennesi,” a monetary unit of Turkmenistan. Ananya Prassanna got that one right during the most diabolical round of the bee, when every word had an unknown, obscure or nonexistent language of origin.

Bruhat said he hoped to have a relaxing summer and spend more time watching and playing basketball, a passion that he set aside over the past year while preparing for the bee.

He is the second straight champion from the Tampa Bay area, and his victory means 29 of the last 35 spelling champs have been Indian American. His parents immigrated from the southern Indian state of Telangana, a region that is well-represented among the quarter-century run of Indian American champions and contenders that began in 1999 with Nupur Lala’s victory, which was later featured in the documentary “Spellbound.”

Bruhat’s victory is also a triumph for a previously unknown former speller-turned-coach: 16-year-old Sam Evans, who worked with three of the top four finishers. He also tutored Faizan and Shrey, a 12-year-old from Rancho Cucamonga, California. Both are sixth-graders and have two years of eligibility left.

Bruhat practiced the spell-off during every coaching session with Evans over the past six months.

“It’s all his hard work. I’m very happy that I could use my experience to help him, but at the end of the day, it’s all about his hard work and his dedication,” Evans said. “I’m so happy for him.”


Ben Nuckols has covered the Scripps National Spelling Bee since 2012. Follow him at https://x.com/APBenNuckols