NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland (KTSM) — The field of 231 spellers was quickly whittled down to only 11 finalists, and notably missing was Arnav Tonde.
The eighth-grader from El Paso’s Wiggs Middle School had seemingly breezed into the semifinals, where his time at the 95th Scripps National Spelling Bee came to an end.
Although he wasn’t able to compete, Tonde and fellow semifinalists were invited on-stage for the live broadcast.
Tonde, 13, spoke with KTSM moments after his elimination on Wednesday at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center just outside Washington, D.C.
He was asked to spell “cyphonautes,” a type of larva.
Tonde asked about the word’s Latin and Greek roots, and for the judges to repeat the word, but the correct spelling never came to him.
Tonde knew he had misspelled it even before the dreaded ding from a Civil War-era bell confirmed it.
Before he walked off stage, Head Judge Mary Brooks reminded him that his performance was a memorable one.
“Arnav, you’ve had an incredible showing this week during the competition,” Brooks said. “We’ve been so impressed with your poise. We know it’s your last year, but we do look forward to seeing your other achievements.”
Tonde said he was excited and honored to represent his school and the entire region of El Paso.
“The first few rounds were a little challenging but fun. Eventually, I did get out in the semifinals.”
Arnav successfully completed five rounds, which included spelling and a word-meaning round, a challenge that traditionally happened behind the scenes but was added to the competition on stage.
“I was mainly thinking of, like, what roots would make up those words. But for the first two, I already had them memorized,” Tonde said of the preliminary rounds.
Tonde said he still waited for Jacques Bailly, the Scripps National Spelling Bee’s official pronouncer, to read out the information.
“I thought the quarterfinals were definitely harder than the preliminaries but still manageable, but the semifinals were like way, way harder,” he said.
Tonde said the key to a deep run in a Spelling Bee, is to learn as many root words as you can.
“Those are really what help,” he said. “And also study the patterns in languages like Greek, Latin — German too, is another big one. Just like really old languages, which no one speaks anymore. Study those a lot and study your roots and you’ll do fine.”
Good to be back East
Tonde was most looking forward to being back on the East Coast.
Unlike many of his fellow spellers, Tonde had visited Washington once before. When asked which sites he’d like to see, he listed some popular sites.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “We’ve been hanging out at the hotel room planning our trips after this is over. We plan to go to the White House, the Lincoln Memorial. … We plan to go around Old Town Alexandria a little bit, see the waterfront and also go to the zoo and the Smithsonian.”
Tonde can no longer compete in the Spelling Bee since he begins high school in the fall. But he believes this won’t be his last trip to Washington since his young sister, Anaya, has started spelling herself.
Anaya was there to see her big brother spell.
“Yeah, we practice,” he said. “My mom also helps; My dad also helps. We find resources for her online and also for me. It’s a team effort.”
The Spelling Bee final took place on Thursday night and was televised nationally on ION. Dev Shah, of Largo, Florida, won the competition along with $50,000. For making it to the semifinals, Tonde will receive a commemorative medal and a $500 gift card.