A Rare Spell-Off Determines Scripps Spelling Bee Winner

In the 96th annual Spelling Bee, Bruhat Soma, a 12-year-old from Florida, won the Scripps Cup after 14 rounds and a 90-second spell-off. 

On May 30, the championship round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee took place at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. After 14 rounds and a 90-second spell-off, Bruhat Soma of Tampa, Florida, was declared the winner in the annual competition. 

This year's bee included winners from regional competitions in the United States, its territories, and overseas military bases. Students under the age of 16 took turns “competing against the dictionary,” as they sought to spell and define uncommon words. 

More than 240 young spellers came together in Maryland for several rounds of competition. In the traditional spelling rounds, students had 90 seconds to spell a word correctly. A vocabulary round, which has recently been added, tested the competitors’ knowledge of the meaning of words.

When a competitor spells or defines a word incorrectly, the dreaded bell is rung, and the speller is out. “It’s high stakes, and it’s fun to watch because of that,” said Corrie Loeffler, executive director of the Spelling Bee.


Gavin with Bruhat Soma, the Scripps champion speller, and his two younger sisters


The first Scripps Spelling Bee took place in 1925. The competition has taken place every year since, except for a few interruptions during World War II and the coronavirus pandemic.

The bee has changed over time, as new rules and harder words have been added. In 1925, for example, the winning word was “gladiolus,” a type of flower. In 2023, competitor Dev Shah of Largo, Florida, won with the word “psammophile.” A psammophile (SAMA-file) is an organism that thrives in sandy environments.

Now 15, Dev expressed gratitude for everything that he learned during his 2023 championship run. “The skills you get from preparing,” he said, “are important.”


After 14 rounds, Bruhat Soma, left, and Faizan Zaki, competed in a 90-second spell-off. 


In this year’s competition, a total of eight spellers made it to the finals. Typically, 10 to 12 competitors get that far. The competition ended with a nail-biting spell-off, which is rare. After 14 rounds, two spellers remained: Bruhat and 12-year-old Faizan Zaki of Plano, Texas. They each had 90 seconds to spell as many words as possible. 

In the end, Bruhat was declared the winner. He spelled 29 of 30 words correctly. Faizan spelled 20 words. In addition to the Scripps Cup, Bruhat took home a $50,000 cash prize. Faizan won $25,000.

Bruhat offered advice for other spellers who want to demonstrate their skills on a big stage. “Make a goal of the National Spelling Bee,” he said, “and realize how much you need to do to achieve that goal.”


Each year, the Scripps competition draws national attention—and increasingly difficult words to spell.


Photos, top to bottom ©: Edward M. Pio Roda / Scripps National Spelling Bee; courtesy of the author; Craig Hudson / Scripps National Spelling Bee; Edward M. Pio Roda / Scripps National Spelling Bee