When 13-year-old Ansun Sujoe was asked to spell the word "feuilleton" to determine whether he shared the 87th Scripps National Spelling Bee title or finished second on Thursday night, he knew a dual championship was in the B-A-G.
While "feuilleton" (a section of a European newspaper, kind of like "Talk of the Town" in The New Yorker) would leave most people scratching their heads, Sujoe considered it an alley-oop. Ten letters later, the confetti was raining down around the seventh-grader from Fort Worth, Texas, along with fellow winner Sriram Hathwar, 14, an eighth-grader from Painted Post, N.Y.
"I was kind of confident about the word, sort of,'' Ansun told Tamron Hall as she spoke to the two champs from the Orange Room on TODAY Friday. "I was pretty happy that I got an easy word, so I spelled it to the best of my ability, and I was pretty happy."
By nailing the word, Ansun tied Sriram for the championship because the brilliant duo had exhausted the judges' word list after beating out 279 other contestants from 8 to 15 years old, including 10 finalists. It was the first time since 1962 that there were co-champions at the nation's largest spelling bee. Each winner pocketed $30,000 for his spelling skills, and got some props from the president.
"I'm gonna spend it mostly on a college fund or maybe on traveling, especially to India,'' Ansun said about his winnings.
Sriram finished third at last year's National Spelling Bee before finishing the job on Thursday night.
"This year I guess I really focused more on the vocabulary side of it,'' Sriram told Hall. "I'd always studied the definitions along with the spelling of the word because they go hand in hand, but this time I made flash cards to learn the definitions more, and I guess I went through the dictionary a bit more, too."