They couldn't be rattled. They couldn't be denied. Gokul Venkatachalam and Vanya Shivashankar had worked too hard and come close too many times not to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee. So they shared the title, making history in two different ways. The bee hadn't ended in a tie for 52 years—until last year. Now it's happened for an unprecedented two years running. And Vanya is the first sibling of a past champion to win. Her sister, Kavya, won in 2009. Vanya's final word was "scherenschnitte." After being informed he'd be the co-champion if he got the next word right, Gokul, who finished third last year, didn't even bother to ask the definition before spelling "nunatak."
Both are eighth-graders, so it was their last chance. Vanya was competing in the bee for the fifth and final time. Her sister, Kavya—now a sophomore at Columbia University—competed four times, which means the Shivashankar family has made the trip nine of the past 10 years. Proving their superiority over even their toughest competitors, Vanya and Gokul went head-to-head for 10 rounds before the list of 25 championship words was exhausted. The words included: bouquetière, caudillismo, thamakau, scytale, Bruxellois, and pyrrhuloxia. Vanya appeared to struggle only with the Fijian-derived thamakau, which is a type of outrigger canoe. (Past winners say the pair are now members of "one of the most unique, odd clubs you can be in.")