Who is Bruhat Soma, the 2024 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion

Bruhat Soma was just 7 years old when his parents began noticing that he had an unusual talent for memorizing things – words, numbers, entire Sanskrit verses known as slokas found in the Bhagavad Gita.

Bruhat, then in his second year, did not pay much attention to his memory. But when his father entered him in several regional math and spelling competitions hosted by the nonprofit North South Educational Foundation, he saw what his recall could do under competitive pressure.

Although Bruhat finished first in math at the Tampa area tournament, he placed eighth in spelling.

“I was so disappointed,” recalls Bruhat, now 12. He was determined to do better, he said, to learn more words and to win.

In the following years, Bruhat won regional competitions. He placed top five at the WishWin Junior Nationals and practiced hundreds of words a week, keeping a list of words that stumped him – then he would use it to drill until they stuck.

At the moment when he was crowned the 2024 Scripps Spelling Bee national champion on Thursday, it had been eight months since he last lost a spelling bee.

“I don’t know the whole dictionary,” Bruhat said after his last victory.

Bruhat, a seventh grade student, obtained his Scripps victory during a 90-second period with no pauses, no follow-up questions, and no time to find root words or original languages.

One spell is relatively new to the Scripps Bee, having been introduced in 2021 and used only once before. Harini Logan spelled 22 words correctly in 90 seconds to win the 2022 competition.

When the fate was announced After 14 intense rounds of competition on Thursday, gasps echoed through the packed auditorium at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Former spellers who had been eliminated in previous rounds raised their voices and clapped their hands in chants of “Bewitchment! Bewitchment!”

Bruhat left first. His good friend and spelling bee opponent Faizan Zaki, 12, a sixth grader from Allen, Texas, was removed from the stage and sequestered while Bruhat stood at a desk, his arm hovering over of a blue buzzer.

He went through the 30-word list, his fingers flying through the air as if he were tapping invisible keys — a trick, Bruhat said, that he learned just a few months ago.

Bee officials said Bruhat’s winning word was rappel, a mountaineering tactic involving rappelling using a rope coiled over a ledge. When spelling, officials count the winning word as the one that gives a speller a more correctly spelled word than their competitor.

Rappel was the 21st word correctly spelled by Bruhat. He would go on to spell eight more correctly — a feat that longtime bee pronouncer and 1980 champion Jacques Bailly admiringly described as “truly incredible.”

But not everyone was a fan of the National Bee settling via spell. Some, like 2023 Spelling Bee champion Dev Shah, also from the Tampa Bay area, felt the flash it lacked the purity of spelling that the competition is known for.

“As the competition progressed, it was clear that Faizan and Bruhat – our final two spellers – were showing up tonight, ready to take the dictionary apart,” Corrie Loeffler, executive director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, said in a statement. “It was a powerful match.”

Both boys were making their third appearance at the national competition. Neither had ever reached the final round.

Last year, Bruhat was tied for 74th place, according to Scripps officials. In 2022, he was tied for 163rd place.

But this time, he held the coveted ceramic Scripps mug above his head and beamed as brightly colored confetti exploded thunderously from the ceiling and the crowd roared. The winner of the bee also receives $50,000 in cash and other prizes.

“I feel elated,” Bruhat said moments later, surrounded by reporters and cameras eager to hear from the new national champion how he did.

He explained that he had practiced a spell-type scenario with his father every day for the past six months. He worked on his speed and memory by going through lists of 30 words at a time.

“I knew this moment, if I made it this far, would probably come,” Bruhat said. “I wanted to prepare for it.”

When the moment came, Bruhat said, he felt an unusual calm come over him.

He had practiced this exact scenario. Bruhat knew he had to trust that he could do it again now – in front of a live audience, on national television.

As his family rushed the stage, his two sisters – aged 8 and 10 – throwing confetti as they ran, Bruhat clutched the trophy to his slight frame.

It took a while for it all to sink in, he said later. He had achieved something he had dreamed of for years. NOW, he would no longer spend school nights and weekends learning the spelling of medical terminology or Latin roots.

He realized he had room to remember other things. And he knew exactly where to start.

“I’m going to remember this moment,” he said, his eyes scanning the brightly lit stage, the blue carpet, the pile of confetti still underfoot. “I want to remember everything.”

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