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14-year-old Dev Shah of Florida wins Scripps National Spelling Bee with final word ‘psammophile’

<i>Nick Wass/AP</i><br/>
Nick Wass/AP

By Steve Almasy, CNN

(CNN) — Dev Shah, a 14-year-old from Largo, Florida, won the 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night, correctly spelling the word ‘psammophile’ to take home the $50,000 first prize.

Eleven students made the finals after 11 million people entered spelling competitions throughout the world.

In an interview Friday on “CNN This Morning,” Shah said, “I didn’t know if it was happening – if it was real or not.”

The preliminary rounds were held Tuesday, while the quarterfinals and semifinals took place Wednesday.

In Thursday’s finals in National Harbor, Maryland, Dev correctly spelled schistorrhachis, aegagrus, rommack and tolsester. In the word meaning round, Dev picked the right definition of chiromancy, identifying it as someone who tells fortunes using lines on the palm of the hand.

Now that it’s over, he can admit the competition was a nail-biter, or to use some words from his Merriam-Webster dictionary he definitely knows how to spell: laborious, grueling, Augean and moiling.

“When you are on stage, the nerves do get to you,” he told CNN. “Even if spellers don’t show it … the pressure does get to us.”

For the record, the word psammophile refers to an organism that prefers or thrives in sandy soils or areas, according to Merriam-Webster.

Dev competed against 14-year-old Charlotte Walsh from Merrifield, Virginia, as the final two standing. She earned $25,000 for reaching second place after correctly spelling akuammine, collembolous and Jhangar.

The 231 elementary and middle school students in the National Spelling Bee this year were as young as 9 and as old as 14. There were contestants from every US state, and 11 students from the Bahamas, Canada, Germany, Ghana, the US Virgin Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico, according to the E.W. Scripps Company, the organization that operates the bee.

More than 180 were National Spelling Bee first-timers, and 49 were returning contestants.

Dev previously had tied for 51st place in 2019 and finished tied for 76th in 2021.

He told CNN he focused on studying the roots of words so that he would be better prepared for this year’s contest.

“If I got a word I didn’t know, I then could figure it out,” he said.

Dev is a student at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Pinellas Park, Florida. As part of the championship, he also won $2,000 in book money to be donated to the school of his choice, a $2,500 cash and reference book award from Merriam-Webster, and $400 worth of reference materials from the Encyclopedia Britannica.

“It’s surreal. … My legs are still shaking,” he said at the end of the competition.

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