WASHINGTON -- "Celebrity" was no doubt too easy of a word for the Scripps National Spelling Bee finals. But on Friday, newly crowned champ Kavya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kan., became very familiar with its meaning.
The talk shows were calling. Other media as well. Everyone wanted the bright, down-to-earth 13-year-old from suburban Kansas City. "It hasn't completely sunk in yet," she said Friday afternoon before being whisked off for another date with a camera.
Kavya was up early after little sleep following her Thursday night triumph. Her day was booked solid.
ABC, Fox and MSNBC all wanted her. She was a nice bouquet amid the unrelenting crabgrass of crises and controversy that otherwise fill the daily airwaves.
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So many things for a young spelling whiz to do and so many places to go.
Friday was the spelling bee awards banquet. Then it’s off to New York and Los Angeles for more appearances, including “Live! with Regis and Kelly” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
Her mom, Sandy Shivashankar, was by her side all day, unworried that Kavya’s head would get too big – and not from all the $50 words she’s crammed in from years of spelling bee prep.
“She isn’t even sure that she did something great,” her mother said, chuckling. “She is good. She carries herself so well.”
Kavya likely does know that she’s an ace. But the eighth-grader chose to honor her competition. She has an insider’s understanding that realizes someone else could just as easily be enjoying the fruits of vocabulary victory.
She said that the title comes down to the one word you either have the fortune – or misfortune – to draw.
“There are so many good spellers,” Kavya said. “But there’s always going to be a word you don’t know. You can’t memorize every word. We all supported each other and encouraged each other. We knew we were all against the dictionary and that was the only thing that can get you out.”
But when did it dawn on her that, “Hey, I might actually win this?”
Kavya allowed that when the two other remaining spellers both missed their words in the 15th round, “I was kind of thinking it could happen. But I was just trying to focus because I still needed to spell my word right.”
Words are what Kavya has lived by. But her competitive spelling days are over. Champs are barred from future contests, and she’d be too old, anyway.
She’s counting on her little sister, Vanya, to succumb to the same spelling bee bug so she can help tutor her.
“It would be a really fun thing because then I can bring spelling somehow back into my life,” Kavya said.