Although he didn’t win, Surya Kapu earned a hearty standing ovation at the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The 14-year-old, who attends American Preparatory Academy in Draper, was the only finalist from 2022 to make the finals again this year, The New York Times reported. This year marked his last year of eligibility, and he was trying to make history and become Utah’s first champion.

It didn’t happen — but he got really close.


Surya Kapu finishes 3rd in the 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee

Stumped by the word “kelep” — which is “a Central American stinging ant that lives in small colonies in the ground especially near clearings,” according to Merriam-Webster — Kapu ended up placing third in the national spelling bee Thursday night.

According to a news release from Scripps, 231 students from around the country advanced past local and regional rounds to compete in the three-day national spelling bee.

Head judge Mary Brooks was emotional as she praised the Utah teen for his dedication, saying he did an “amazing job,” The New York Times reported. Kapu said “thank you,” and gave high-fives to the two remaining contestants as he walked off the stage for the last time.

As a third-place finisher, Kapu walked away with $12,500, according to USA Today.

Per Axios, words that Kapu spelled correctly during the finals included:

  • Tenebrous.
  • Nunnari.
  • Haysel.
  • Bloemfontein.

Kapu, who was just one of two returning finalists from last year, finished two spots higher than his 2022 appearance. In that contest, the teenager placed fifth after becoming “one of the few contestants ever to successfully challenge their elimination,” Axios reported.

In that appearance, Kapu misspelled “leucovorin” and was eliminated ahead of the finals, The Associated Press reported. But the teen appealed the elimination, arguing that he was not given complete information about the word’s roots. After a two-hour deliberation, the judges reinstated Kapu.

Kapu made his national spelling bee debut in 2019 and tied for 370th place, per The New York Times.

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Who won the 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee?

After Kapu’s elimination, it came down to two final contestants: 14-year-old Dev Shah of Florida; and Charlotte Walsh, a 14-year-old from Virginia.

Ultimately, the title went to Shah, who was able to correctly spell “psammophile” after Walsh got knocked out by the word “daviely,” The Washington Post reported.

“Psammophile” is “an organism that prefers or thrives in sandy soils or areas,” per Merriam-Webster.

According to The New York Times, Shah smiled when he heard the word.

And as he held the trophy high above his head as confetti fell around him, Shah said it was “surreal” and that his legs were “still shaking,” per The Washington Post.

The teenager cut back on extracurricular activities — and skipped out on an end-of-year field trip — so he could spend more time preparing for the spelling bee.

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“I made a lot of sacrifices these last three months and I’m glad I made them,” Shah said after his win, according to USA Today. “I’m glad to now get back what I sacrificed.”

With his win, Shah “takes home a $50,000 cash prize, a commemorative medal and the official Scripps Cup trophy from the Scripps National Spelling Bee, as well as a $2,500 cash prize from Merriam-Webster, and $400 worth of reference works from “Encyclopedia Britannica,” the Deseret News reported.