The Scripps National Spelling Bee is the most grueling of all timeless American sporting events. It's tense, cutthroat, and is basically scripted almost entirely in dead languages. The stakes are higher than you could ever imagine. That's why it's not surprising that Nihar Janga, 11, and Jairam Hathwar, 13, (the competition's ultimate co-champions) were forced to experience a lifetime of emotion over the course of several hours in last night's final competition.
In the Vine below, (made by Sports Illustrated offshoot The Cauldron) Hathwar misspells the word drahthaar, while Janga shakes his head knowingly in the background. Later, Janga claps at him while he recovers from the loss.
Let's unpack this moment by moment. First, Hathwar, whom we see only in profile, looking as if all the world's sorrows are contained in his being in this single moment. His brow, slightly furrowed. His mouth, twisted in pain, as if someone out of shot is pinching him. He is experiencing doubt and confusion at once, while also holding on to that essential glimmer of hope. Without it, he would have nothing. The hope stays with him until that bell dings, and he is hit with a wave of disappointment.
BUT. BUT. There's a truly insane bit of parallel storyline happening here. At the exact moment Hathwar is working through this horror show of a word, grappling with his emotions, Janga is physically announcing to the audience, but not to Hathwar, that he thinks Hathwar has made a fatal error. It's like a horror movie moment, when the audience knows there's a serial killer in the closet, but the blissfully unaware teenager opens the door anyway to look for a coat.
Cut to scene two, after Hathwar has been made aware of his mistake. His eyes are squeezed shut, he's imagining he's somewhere else; somewhere not on a stage, being forced to spell words he'll never use again, in front of hundreds of people. For a fleeting moment: bliss. But a noise keeps bringing him back to reality — Clap. Clap. Clap. Right next to his ear. He opens his eyes and looks toward the noise — it's Janga. Yes, he is still here.
Eventually, Hathwar and Janga ended up in a tie — the third year in a row the spelling bee has had co-champions. Here are some words, according to ESPN and USA Today, that Janga and Hathwar spelled correctly: Kjeldahl, Hohenzollern, juamave, gesellschaft, Feldenkrais, groenedael, and zindiq euchologion.