They both knew what was coming.
Harini Logan and Vikram Raju were the last spellers left onstage on Thursday night, having bested 227 other spelling bee contestants,
Survived a grueling vocabulary round and engaged in a marathon duel of one arcane term after another.
Neither could quite clinch a victory there, and a lectern with a buzzer was wheeled out.
Harini, a 14-year-old eighth grader from San Antonio, exchanged a nervous look with Vikram, a 12-year-old seventh grader from Aurora, Colo.
It was time for the spell-off, a 90-second lightning round that had never been used in the nearly 100-year history of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
“OK,” Harini recalled thinking. “Here we go.”
What followed was a blistering showdown between the spellers, each rattling off word after word so quickly that the judges had to go to video to determine a winner.
After several agonizing minutes, the Bee’s pronouncer announced the results: Harini had spelled 21 words correctly, compared with 15 for Vikram.
“This is just such a dream,” Harini said Thursday night, as she held the trophy during the national television broadcast.
It was a tense victory that came after she was briefly eliminated, and then reinstated, earlier in the finals,
When the judges decided that a definition she had given for the word “pullulation” was acceptable.
Vikram stood nearby with his family, visibly trembling and his head bowed with the high emotions of the three-hour contest.
But when the Bee’s host, LeVar Burton, asked Vikram if he would return in 2023, for what would be his last eligible year, the boy, shaking but sounding resolute, gave a decisive “yes.”