12-Year-Old Bruhat Soma Wins National Bee, Spells 29 Words Correctly in a Row

Twelve-year-old Bruhat Soma, of Tampa, Fla., reacts after winning the 2024 Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center on May 30, 2024 in National Harbor, Md. )

Bruhat Soma was never defeated before he arrived at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and neither the dictionary, nor his opponents, nor a sudden-death tiebreaker stopped him on his way to victory.

Bruhat nailed 29 words correctly in the tiebreaker, sailing past Faizan Zaki by nine, to seize the title on Thursday night. He waltzed away with a trophy and more than $50,000 in cash and prizes.

The 12-year-old seventh-grader from Tampa, Florida, had won three consecutive bees before stepping onto the stage at a convention center outside Washington for the most prestigious spelling contest in the English language.

“I always want to win. And this was, like, my ultimate goal,” Bruhat confessed. “It didn’t matter if I won all those other bees. This is what I was shooting for. So I’m just really glad that I won this.”

The bee had a paltry eight finalists, the smallest turnout since 2010, and from the get-go it was painfully clear that Scripps was desperate to fill the 2-hour broadcast window on Ion, a network owned by the Cincinnati-based media giant. There were annoyingly long commercial breaks that gave the spellers ample time to hang out at the side of the stage, chatting away with their coaches, family, and fans.

Abruptly, bee officials announced it was time for the tiebreaker, a format known as a “spell-off,” before Bruhat and Faizan even had a chance to battle it out in a regular round.

“I do wish we would have gotten to witness more of a head-to-head between them,” observed Charlotte Walsh, who gave Dev Shah a run for his money last year and ultimately finished as the runner-up. “It’s a very interesting decision to jump straight into the spell-off.”

Bruhat took the first shot, and after he flawlessly rattled off 30 words, it seemed impossible to beat. Faizan’s pace was more erratic at the beginning. He attempted 25 words but stumbled on four of them.

Scripps revealed that Bruhat’s game-winning word was “abseil,” which means “to go down a steep slope or vertical rock face using a rope looped over a projection above.” In the tiebreaker—which has only been used once before, when Harini Logan triumphed in 2022—the winning word is the one that gives a speller one more correct answer than their opponent.

Shortly after Bruhat was showered with confetti and handed the trophy, Faizan was spotted in tears at the side of the stage, accepting hugs from other spellers. Just minutes earlier, he had embraced his good buddy, Shrey Parikh, after Shrey was knocked out onstage.

Faizan spelled his final word in the regular competition in walk-off style, confidently zipping through “nicuri” without asking a single question and strutting back to his seat, a moment that echoed in 2017.

But the 12-year-old sixth-grader from Allen, Texas, wasn’t given a fair chance to do it again.

“I definitely think they should have given them a chance to have some regular spelling rounds before they resorted to the spell-off,” argued Scott Remer, one of four coaches who worked with Faizan. “I don’t think it really needs any extra drama created by artificial means.”

The rules of the competition state that a spell-off is used in the interest of time, but Scripps still managed to squeeze in another commercial break between the tiebreaker and the announcement of Bruhat’s victory.

Coming into the contest, Bruhat had dominated the Words of Wisdom bee hosted by Remer, a veteran speller and study guide author. He had also triumphed in the SpellPundit bee organized by that same study guide company. And he had won the first-ever online bee emceed by Dev, last year’s Scripps champion.

His last loss was in September at the WishWin senior spelling bee. He tripped up on “Gloucester,” a cheese named after the city in England. He admitted that he was familiar with the city but didn’t know it was also a cheese, so he guessed “glaucester.”

“After that, I guess I just went on a winning streak,” he remarked.

Despite his seemingly effortless performance onstage, Bruhat confessed that there was one word he didn’t know: “tennesi,” a monetary unit of Turkmenistan. Ananya Prassanna nailed that one during the most diabolically difficult round of the bee, when every word had an unknown, obscure, or nonexistent language of origin.

Bruhat said he hoped to have a relaxing summer and spend more time watching and playing basketball, a hobby he had put on hold over the past year while preparing for the bee.

He is the second consecutive champion from the Tampa Bay area, and his triumph means that 29 of the last 35 spelling champs have been Indian American. His parents immigrated from the southern Indian state of Telangana, a region that is well-represented among the quarter-century run of Indian American champions and contenders that began in 1999 with Nupur Lala’s victory, which was later featured in the documentary “Spellbound.”

Bruhat’s victory is also a testament to a previously unknown former speller-turned-coach: 16-year-old Sam Evans, who worked with three of the top four finishers. He also mentored Faizan and Shrey, a 12-year-old from Rancho Cucamonga, California. Both are sixth-graders and have two more years of eligibility left.

Bruhat practiced the spell-off during every coaching session with Evans over the past six months.

“It’s all his hard work. I’m very glad that I was able to use my experience to help him, but ultimately, it’s all about his hard work and his dedication,” Evans reflected. “I’m so thrilled for him.”