National Spelling Bee's Best Moments and Where Contestants Are Now

Some memorable orthographically skilled youths and where they are now.

ByABC News
May 25, 2016, 2:42 PM

— -- This year, 285 precocious kids, ages 6 to 15, will compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the trophy and $40,000 in cash, among other prizes.

The finals, airing Thursday on ESPN, have been a source of great entertainment and fierce orthographic competition. Here is a look back at some of the most buzzworthy moments in the spelling bee's history and a look at where these standout contestants are now.

1997: Rebecca Sealfon Spelling "Euonym"

Who could forget the pure excitement of 13-year-old Rebecca Sealfon, who even before she officially became the 1997 champion, shouted the six letters of "euonym" (a name well suited to a person, place or thing), her excitement growing with each letter? She spelled the word correctly and was declared the winner.

Sealfon could not immediately be reached for comment, but a few years ago she told New York Public Radio that she attended Princeton University for her undergraduate degree and then earned two master's degrees from Duke University and Columbia University.

2004: Akshay Buddiga Spelling "Alopecoid"

There was drama onstage in 2004 when Akshay Buddiga fainted, recovered and jumped back to his feet, spelling "alopecoid" (foxlike) perfectly. He did not respond to ABC News' request for comment and has kept mostly out of the national spotlight. The video of him fainting shows the pressure that some of these kids are under and has garnered more than 180,000 views on YouTube.

2007: Kennyi Aouad Spelling "Sardoodledom"

Kennyi Aouad could not control his laughter when he was asked to spell the entertaining noun "sardoodledom" (melodrama). His mirth proved contagious, and soon he had everyone in the crowd laughing with him.

PHOTO: Kennyi Aouad, 11, of Terre Haute, Ind., bursts into laughter when asked to spell the word, "Sardoodledom," in round three of the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, May 30, 2007.
Kennyi Aouad, 11, of Terre Haute, Ind., bursts into laughter when asked to spell the word, "Sardoodledom," in round three of the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, May 30, 2007.

He told ABC News today that being in the spelling bee "inspired a drive to compete and do my best." He is now a chemistry major at Carleton College in Minnesota.

2008: Sameer Mishra Spelling "Numnah"

Sameer Mishra's reaction upon hearing what he thought was "numnuts" entertained the crowd, as did his relief when he realized it was actually "numnah" (a felt or sheepskin pad placed between a horse s back and a saddle to prevent chafing).

Mishra, who just graduated from Columbia University with a degree in economics and statistics, told ABC News that the spelling bee taught him a lot not just in spelling but in life. "One of the big things I took away from that was that if you set a goal, you can achieve that goal." He said the work ethic required to compete in the bee proved very valuable later on.

He competed nationally four years in a row. He said, "My last year, I would just go through the entire dictionary and find words that I didn’t know and write them down and make my own dictionary."

The attention after winning in 2008 helped him come out of his shell. "You had a lot of people at the grocery store and in your town who just want to talk to you, and you have to figure out how to talk to people," he said. "I was a shy, bookish type of kid. All that attention was pretty incredible.”

He will be back at the spelling bee this year, live-tweeting the event.

2009: Andrew Lay Spelling "Negus"

The anxiety of Andrew Lay, 12 at the time, was palpable when he was asked to spell "negus" (a king, used as a title of the sovereign of Ethiopia).

Wincing and sounding it out, he seemed to surprise everyone, including himself, when he spelled the word correctly. Video of the North Carolina native's stint in the spelling bee, capturing his joy upon spelling "negus" correctly, has gone viral, gaining over 20 million views on YouTube.

Now 21, he told ABC News that he is an incoming senior at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, studying electrical engineering. "Shortly after the spelling bee, my video was picked up by multiple places," he said, "which everybody I know saw, apparently." He said he looks back very fondly on his spelling bee experience, adding that it was "my first experience coming together with people from all over the world" and that he would love to go back if only he weren't too old.

2013: Arvind Mahankali Winning the Bee

After two consecutive third-place finishes, Arvind Mahankali took home the championship after spelling "knaidel," a type of Jewish dumpling. He remained calm and collected as confetti rained down around him, showing no outward signs of emotion. He is still in high school, and his family did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment. He told ABC News' "Good Morning America" in 2013, "At that time, it didn't register that I'd won."