This year's spelling bee champ is ....
00:48 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Arvind Mahankali had twice finished in third place

Winner correctly spells "tokonoma" then "knaidel"

Prize package includes $32,500 in cash and savings bonds

CNN  — 

New York eighth-grader Arvind Mahankali is the fiercest speller around. No word can foil him, as he proved Thursday when he beat out other Scripps National Spelling Bee contestants by spelling “knaidel” correctly.

“It means that I am retiring on a good note,” said Mahankali, who attends Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School 74 and was in his last year of eligibility. “I shall spend the summer, maybe the entire day, studying physics.”

Mahankali, who wants to become a physicist, had finished third in the two previous national bees, being eliminated after misspelling words with German roots.

“I thought that the German curse had turned into a German blessing,” he said, when asked what he thought when he heard the final word, a German-derived Yiddish word for a type of dumpling.

Pranav Sivakumar, a 13-year-old from Tower Lakes, Illinois, finished second. He missed on “cyanophycean.” Then Mahankali nailed “tokonoma” and “knaidel,” and the rest is history.

The annual contest offers the winner a healthy dose of classroom cred, $32,500 in cash and savings bonds, a trophy and a library of reference materials.

Contest isn’t bee-all and end-all

Eleven million schoolchildren participated in preliminaries leading up to the national contest this week. Of those, 281 children made the trip to Oxon Hill, Maryland, outside Washington, for the national bee. Eleven spellers made it through to the finals.

Among them were 63 children who had been to at least one national bee before, and had to prepare for some changes in the rules for this year’s events.

For the first time, participants had to demonstrate proficiency in vocabulary in addition to spelling.

Organizers also added an additional computer test for the semifinals, imposed time limits on computer-based spelling and vocabulary tests, and added a rule that resulted in automatic elimination for any participant who misspelled a word on stage in the second or third rounds.

CNN’s Athena Jones and Michael Pearson contributed to this report.