OXON HILL, Md. – The words were tougher. The final rounds lasted longer. The result was the same.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee ended in a tie for the third consecutive year Thursday night, with Jairam Hathwar and Nihar Janga declared co-champions after a roller-coaster finish.
Thirteen-year-old Jairam is the younger brother of the 2014 co-champion, Sriram Hathwar. Nihar, at age 11, is the youngest winner of the bee on record.
"I'm just speechless. I can't say anything," Nihar said as he hoisted the trophy. "I mean, I'm only in fifth grade!"
Scripps made the bee tougher after two consecutive ties, forcing the last two spellers to get through three times as many words as in years past.
Jairam misspelled two words, but both times, Nihar followed up with a miss and the bee continued. Sriram also got a word wrong during his bee, but his eventual co-champion, Ansun Sujoe, also followed up with a miss.
Each will receive a trophy and $45,000 in cash and prizes.
In another change, bee organizers didn't stick to a predetermined list of 25 "championship words" for the last two or three spellers. No one will know whether the bee had harder words in reserve, but former spellers said Jairam and Nihar nailed the toughest words in recent memory.
"It was insane," Jairam said.
Because the best spellers become fluent in Latin and Greek roots, the bee went to words derived from trickier or more obscure languages, including Afrikaans, Danish, Irish Gaelic, Maori and Mayan.
Jairam's winning word was Feldenkrais, which is derived from a trademark and means a system of body movements intended to ease tension. Niram won with gesellschaft, which means a mechanistic type of social relationship.
Among the words they got right: Kjeldahl, Hohenzollern, juamave, groenedael, zindiq and euchologion.
At his best, Nihar wowed the crowd by shouting out definitions immediately after the words were announced. He looked unbeatable. But given two chances to hold the trophy by himself, he stumbled.
The two boys have become close friends over the past year, but Nihar said he didn't misspell on purpose. He just didn't know the words.
Snehaa Kumar of Folsom, Calif., finished third, and Sylvie Lamontagne of Lakewood, Colo., was fourth. Both are 13-year-old eighth-graders, meaning this year was their last chance.