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Twelve youngsters are just one word away from V-I-C-T-O-R-Y in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
A dozen spellers, ranging in age from 11 to 15 and from hometowns from California to Jamaica, advanced to the championship finals on Thursday. Only one repeat finalist is among the group.
The big shocker in Thursday's semifinals came when top contender Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, was eliminated. Twelve-year-old Vanya, a three-time finalist whose older sister was the 2009 bee winner, correctly spelled both words onstage but didn't get a high enough score on two computerized spelling and vocabulary tests to advance.
Jacob Williamson, 15, of Cape Coral, Florida, collapsed to the stage and pounded the floor when his name was called among the finalists. He said he was shocked he was a finalist and Vanya was not.
The lone repeat finalist, Sriram Hawar, 14, of Painted Post, New York, is back for his fifth and final spelling bee. Last year, he placed third.
The youngest speller to make the cut was 11-year-old Tejas Muthusamy of Glen Allen, Virginia. In the semifinals, he nailed the spelling of "ilanero" — a term for a cowboy or herdsman in Spanish America. The fifth grader earned a perfect score earlier this year in the WordMasters Challenge, an analogy and verbal reasoning competition.
Tajaun Gibbison, 13, the only speller from outside the U.S., comes to the spelling bee from Mandeville, Jamaica. He advanced from the semifinals after correctly spelling "swidden" — an agricultural term for an area cleared by cutting and burning vegetation to make space for temporary cultivation.
The final rounds will be broadcast live on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET Thursday. The winner gets more than $33,000 in cash and prizes.
— Elizabeth Chuck
The Associated Press contributed to this report.