Tuesday, June 11, 2013



Lemme tell ya something - that kid is one of the premier competitors of the modern world.  You can say that's ridiculous for a Spelling Bee - for anything where the age limit is 14 - but I've watched him for three years. In the 2011 and 2012 Finals, he turned the night sky to day with a pair of insane, glorious flameouts.  He fought with the judges, he played to the crowd, he threw mind-games at his competition.
He got third-place, twice, and nobody was more obviously surprised both times than the two kids he left standing on the stage as he walked away. He was by far the best competitor in the Bee, just not, as it happened, the best spller.

Tonight, he came back with a new level of skill where his immaturity had been.  And he danced to the title.  Never wavered, never in doubt, never touched third gear. The moment was waiting for him, and he didn't lift a finger to chase it.  He let it come to him.

So total was his command of the stage that he spent much of the night actively pulling and willing his competitors to run with him, to make him earn it.  None could, of course.  He schemed and plotted with those around him in their seats and when the field had dropped around him to just 3, he did something unthinkable: he told the other two kids - tiny, near-infants, for Goodness sake - to stand up and he pulled them into a huddle for a pep talk, the quarterback challenging his team, never mind there was only room for one on the podium.
  Was it a psych out move?  Maybe, but it didn't need to be.  When he did finally win - effortlessly, inevitably - he instantly shed the tension of competition and slipped into an air of gratitude.  His first comment - and normally here, the kids who win are unable to speak, let alone show grace - was to insist that, against the evidence of our own eyes, the words had been hard.
 But he didn't stop there.  Then he chose to say that he had not known the night's hardest word, one that had earlier taken out a fellow, but inferior, 4-time qualifier.  He was saying - at a moment when he could have said anything - that she could have won instead of him.  After dominating all night, he was saying he was lucky.

What now?  Next year's Bee looks pre-ordained, an open path for Vanya from Kansas, who will be back for her fourth year, matching her sister, who won the 2009 Bee.  Vanya is a delight - poised, happy, passionate, about 70 lbs of smile.  It will be fun to watch her win, or to somehow lose.  But Arvind will be gone.  Before our eyes he evolved from raging prodigy to perfect champion.  And now he's not ours anymore.

The 2012 Bee