Platylepadid trips up Ashburn student in spelling bee finals

Ashburn eighth-grader Ashrita Gandhari was eliminated in the first round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee finals Thursday night when she misspelled the word platylepadid.

Gandhari was one of just 11 spellers who advanced to the national finals, held in-person at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., and broadcast live on ESPN2.

Platylepadid is a type of turtle barnacle.  Gandhari spelled it “platylepodid.”

Gandhari was one of five spellers eliminated in the first round, meaning she wound up in a tie for seventh overall.  Zaila Avant-garde of New Orleans won the bee, becoming the first African-American winner in the bee’s history.

Gandhari, 14, who attended Stone Hill Middle School this year, reached the finals by surviving six rounds of spelling and three rounds of definitions during virtual competitions last month that narrowed the national field from 209 spellers.  Gandhari qualified for the national bee by winning the Loudoun County spelling bee earlier in the year.

Gandhari’s family was shown in the audience at the national bee seated with First Lady Jill Biden, who attended the bee.

This was Gandhari’s fourth appearance in the national bee: She tied for 35th place in 2017, tied for 42nd place in 2018 and tied for 51st place in 2019. The national bee was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.

According to her biography on the Scripps Spelling Bee site, Gandhari was the vice president of her school’s newspaper club, and her favorite book is “The Catcher in the Rye.” She also founded her school’s debate club.

During the 2017 bee season, when she lived in Massachusetts, Gandhari was among four bee participants followed by filmmakers Sam Rega and Chris Weller for a documentary now called “Spelling the Dream.”

Gandhari was the only Virginia speller in the finals.  Among the other finalists competing Thursday night, four were from Texas, and one apiece from the Bahamas, California, Illinois, Louisiana, New York and North Carolina.  This is Gandhari’s last year of eligibility for the Scripps bee.