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US National Spelling Bee finalists vie for championship

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By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – Eleven of the sharpest young spellers in the U.S. will compete on Thursday in the finals of the 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee, having survived three early rounds by nailing words like “zwitterion” (a type of molecule) and “polissoir” (a polishing tool).

The finalists, who range from 11 to 14 years old, beat out a field of 220 other competitors who participated in the three-day contest, held in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C.

This year’s field comprised 94 girls, 134 boys and two spellers who identify as nonbinary. One competitor did not specify a gender.

The winner will take home $50,000 cash from E.W. Scripps Co, the bee’s sponsor, plus further monetary prizes and reference works from Encyclopedia Britannica and Merriam-Webster. The Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary is the official dictionary of the competition.

The bee is televised live. The excitement is heightened by TV commentators who describe the action as contestants wrack their brains to come up with the correct spellings for often-obscure words.

The semifinals were highlighted by difficult words like “oblatio” (an offering), which was spelled correctly by Aryan Khedkar, a 12-year-old from Waterford, Michigan, and “sacalait” (a type of fish) correctly spelled by Vikrant Chintanaboina, a 14-year-old from San Ramon, California.

Last year, Harini Logan, 14, from San Antonio, Texas, correctly spelled 22 words during a 90-second spell-off to claim the top prize. It was the first time a spell-off decided the prestigious competition, which began in 1925.

The 2022 show was broadcast on ION and Bounce, both networks owned by a Scripps subsidiary, after 27 years on the cable sports channel ESPN. ION will again carry this year’s finals.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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