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2 Finalists Crowned Champions At Scripps National Spelling Bee


Last night, 13-year-old Jairam Hathwar and 11-year-old Nihar Janga faced off at the Scripps National Spelling Bee on ESPN. The two rattled off letter after letter in tiebreaking championship rounds.


It came down to two words.


JAIRAM: Feldenkrais.

MONTAGNE: For Jairam. And for Nihar...


NIHAR: Gesellschaft.

GREENE: Not easy, but both of them got the words right which meant they shared the title co-champs. And they sounded a little in shock.


JAIRAM: It was just insane. I mean, I don't even know how to put it in words.

NIHAR: I'm just speechless. I can't say anything. I mean, I'm only in fifth grade.


GREENE: Only in fifth grade and then national champion. It makes you wonder what kind of future he has in store.

MONTAGNE: Well, we reached out to previous spelling bee winners to find out what life became like after their victories.

JOANNA LAGATTA: My name is Joanne Lagatta. I won the National Spelling Bee in 1991. And the winning word was antipyretic. It's something that reduces fever like Tylenol.

MONTAGNE: Lagatta is now a pediatrician in Milwaukee. Little did she know that medical word would have meaning in her adult life.

GREENE: And some spellers get lucky and get a word they already know.

KERRY CLOSE: I'm Kerry Close. I won the National Spelling Bee in 2006. And my winning word was ursprache, which is a German word that means a parent language. And it's spelled U-R-S-P-R-A-C-H-E.

GREENE: Of course it is. Well, she studied hard to get ready to compete.

CLOSE: I decided to go through the entire dictionary and make a list of all the words in there that I didn't know how to spell.

GREENE: And all this has paid off. She is a reporter now for Money magazine.

MONTAGNE: And for some, the talent runs in the family.

BALU NATARAJAN: So I have two boys. My 10-year-old and 7-year-old are actually both interested in spelling. And my older one won his school spelling bee last year and this year as well.

MONTAGNE: That's Chicago-based physician Balu Natarajan who won in the 1980s.

NATARAJAN: The winning word in 1985 was milieu, and it is spelled M-I-L-I-E-U.

MONTAGNE: That's the physical or a social setting in which something occurs, just like this studio during a live show.

GREENE: This studio, S-T-U-D-I-O. Got that one easy.

MONTAGNE: Well done. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.