May 29, 2020
Navneeth Murali was asked to spell the word “Kharoshthi” to win the 2020 SpellPundit National Spelling Bee. “Is this Hindi?” he asked immediately, sitting forward on his sofa. The eighth-grader spelled it correctly in less than a minute.
After a slight lag, his competitors unmuted themselves on Zoom and clapped for 14-year-old Murali, of Edison, New Jersey. He had been a favorite to win leading to the final.
The 2020 SpellPundit National Spelling Bee, sponsored by The Juggernaut, took place virtually over Zoom on Thursday, after the Scripps National Spelling Bee was canceled for the first time since the end of World War II in 1945, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The event was created by SpellPundit co-founders — and sibling ex-national bee spellers — Shobha and Shourav Dasari to give eighth-graders such as Murali one last chance to compete, before aging out of eligibility. SpellPundit live-streamed the bee on its Facebook page, where about 2,000 people watched the seven rounds.
The Zoom call was packed with the tension, drama, and excitement that usually accompanies the final rounds of the bee: the nail-biting pause before the judge says a word is spelled correctly, the anxiety of running out of time, the camaraderie of fellow spellers.