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Scripps National Spelling Bee 2023 champion Dev Shah shares advice for current, future contestants

Shah won last year's Bee by correctly spelling "psammophile," which he told Scripps News' Chris Stewart was a "relatively easier" word.
Spelling Bee
Posted at 7:43 PM, May 28, 2024

The buzz is back, and so is its current titleholder — but not for long.

Dev Shah will only be the reigning Scripps National Spelling Bee champion for a few more days, until the 96th annual winner takes over the role on May 30. Still, the 2023 winner has an inside look at how this year's contestants might be feeling now that the competition has finally gotten underway, and he shared that intel with Scripps News.

"I have to say it's a blend of pressure and confidence in these first couple rounds, because you really don't want to get out on a word that you've studied," Shah told Scripps News' Chris Stewart.

Last year, Shah said there wasn't a point when he knew that he was going to go all the way — he took it one day at a time instead, and he recommends the current contestants do the same.

"I know that a lot of spellers right now are really, really nervous, but that's because they're predicting what's gonna happen in 15 rounds," Shah said.

Beyond being in the moment in the Bee itself, he hopes this year's contestants can do the same outside of the competition, as many of them are in their last year of eligibility.

"My advice would be to make friends," Shah told Scripps News. "Yesterday we had a picnic. It was, like, a commencement of the Bee, and a lot of spellers just stayed in their room and studied. And that's okay; it is a national competition. But just enjoy it. Make friends, and make memories."

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And if you or your future Bee contestant child are watching at home thinking, "Wow, I don't know how they do that," the champion has some advice: Focus on the root of the word.

"With a lot of these words, especially the couple earlier rounds … we're going to see words that I don't want to say are basic, but words that you can piece out easily," Shah said. "So my advice really would be try to look at the definition, because in the definition you can recognize roots."

This strategy is what won Shah the gold. When he was given the word "psammophile," the winner initially didn't know how to spell the word, but when given the definition — an organism that lives in sand or soil — he found the keyword "sand," which helped him figure out the rest of its spelling.

In the long run, Shah said his winning word was "relatively easier" than others (though I had to Google search the term to check the spelling myself) because of its connection to its roots. Still, even though he's not too pleased that the word "psammophile" will hang around him "for the rest of my life," he still can't believe that the moment really happened, no matter the word.

"I imagined that, like, millions of times … That's not an overstatement; that's probably an understatement," Shah told Scripps News. "It's still a blur to me if I try to remember it, and seeing it on TV is a lot different from being there in my shoes. It was just so surreal. That's all I could say."

The Scripps National Spelling Bee began Tuesday, with all 245 competitors getting their chance to spell on stage during the preliminary round. The competition heads into semifinals Wednesday before Thursday night's final round, ending with a new Bee champion's crowning. Both rounds will air on ION at 8 E.T.

Scripps News is a subsidiary of the E.W. Scripps Company, which runs the Bee on a not-for-profit basis.