Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe swept into the championship round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday as one of 10 competitors for the top honor.
The finals start at 7 p.m. Central on ESPN.
In the semifinals, Vanya, 13, spelled “consommé,” a type of clear soup, and “mediobrome,” a process for using oil paints to alter monochrome photographs.
“I’ve been doing spelling for a really long time,” she said Thursday afternoon. “It’s one of my biggest passions. But if I won this, it would be a dream come true.”
More than 11 million students took part in local and state spelling bees that sent 285 competitors this week to the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center in suburban Washington.
Vanya qualified for the finals based on a written test Wednesday night and correctly spelling both her words Thursday.
She might seem to have an advantage tonight. This national bee is her fifth — more than any other competitor. And with a sibling who won the national title — sister Kavya in 2009 — some consider Vanya a “legacy.”
Before the semifinals began Thursday, Kavya, 19, told Vanya to relax and enjoy the moment.
Kavya, a pre-med student at Columbia University in New York, said she has helped her sister a little this week, but not enough to regain her old spelling skills.
“My spelling knowledge has definitely deteriorated since 2009,” she said. “Some of these words, I’m sitting here and I’m like, ‘Oh, gosh, I have no idea how to spell this.’”
Vanya charged into the final round tied for fourth place, with a score of 64 points. But now the points go out the window; accurately spelling words on stage will be all that matters.
Her routine before she goes on stage in front of several hundred parents and spectators is pretty simple, she said: “I hug my parents, just get some last words of advice and just chill out and enjoy everything.”
Her mom, Sandy Shivashankar, said Vanya spends “an hour or two hours on the weekdays (studying), that’s the maximum … on the weekends a few hours.”
Sandy and Mirle Shivashankar, Vanya’s father, are both software engineers who work for Booz Allen Hamilton, a technology consulting firm. Sandy’s client is the Department of Agriculture; Mirle’s is the Walt Disney Co.
Sandy Shivashankar said a win by Vanya would mean a lot for the family, and it would mark the first time two siblings have won the National Spelling Bee.
“She’s following in her sister’s footsteps,” Sandy Shivashankar said. “So we want her to win, but it’s OK (if she doesn’t). We are still proud of her because she made it this far.”
Vanya said her career goal hasn’t changed in the five years since her first national bee.
“When I grow up, I want to be a cardiac surgeon,” she said. “I’ve always been really fascinated by the heart.”
The spelling bee champion gets a $30,000 prize plus an engraved trophy; a $5,000 cash prize from Words With Friends; a $2,500 U.S. savings bond and a reference library from Merriam-Webster; and $1,100 worth of reference works from Encyclopedia Britannica.
Joining Vanya in the finals will be Gokul Venkatachalam of Chesterfield, Mo., who finished third last year; Dev Jaiswal of Mississippi; Cole Shafer-Ray of Oklahoma; Siddharth Krishnakumar of Texas; Tejas Muthusamy of Virginia; Paul Keaton of Kentucky; Siyona Mishra of Florida; Snehaa Ganesh Kumar of California; and Sylvie Lamontagne of Colorado.