C-H-A-M-P: Eighth-grader wins second straight OC Spelling Bee, advances to national competition

Eighth-grader ​Winston Zuo of Fairmont Private Schools‘ Historic Anaheim Campus and Genevie Nguyen of Irvine Intermediate School in the Garden Grove Unified School District

Eighth-grader ​Winston Zuo of Fairmont Private Schools‘ Historic Anaheim Campus, left, won his second straight Orange County Spelling Bee after a stirring back-and-forth matchup with Genevie Nguyen of Irvine Intermediate School in Garden Grove, who finished second.

Round by round, they dueled over words like  “intaglio,” “vivace,” “bobbejaan” and “zeitgeber.”

When Genevie Nguyen of Irvine Intermediate School in the Garden Grove Unified School District spelled a word flawlessly, eighth-grader ​Winston Zuo of Fairmont Private Schools‘ Historic Anaheim Campus would match it, and this went on for quite a while.

In fact, the two stellar spellers were the only competitors remaining from rounds 7 through 28.

Finally, after Genevie missed a single letter in the latter round, Winston correctly spelled “teff” — it’s a species of grass native to Ethiopia used to make flour — in round 29. By doing so, he clinched his second straight Orange County Spelling Bee championship and a return trip to the 91st annual Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Md. Travel expenses will be offset by the Orange County Register, which sponsored the county contest along with the Orange County Department of Education.

Orange County Spelling Bee winner Winston Zao and his family

Winston Zuo, the winner of the 55th annual Orange County Spelling Bee, celebrates with mother Christine, sister Teresa and father Kevin.

“It’s a really euphoric feeling,” Winston said afterward. “It was really stressful. I felt like I was going to mess up sometimes.”

Genevie, who took home $300 and a second-place trophy, could no doubt relate.

“It was really fun,” she said. “It was also a bit scary. There’s a lot of pressure on you.”

Suffice to say, the competition was fierce at the 55th annual Orange County Spelling Bee, which began on Monday evening with a preliminary written contest featuring 131 students in grades six, seven and eight. All had won their school or district-level competitions, but by the end of the night only 47 remained.

Saturday’s final showdown was held in OCDE’s Board Room, where the top spellers were challenged to audibly reconstruct a fusillade of high-level words letter by letter.

Some of these words were at least familiar to the students — others not so much.

“With the etymology, you can kind of know how to spell the words and see the patterns,” Genevie said.

Remarkably, nine students earned third-place honors this year. But when the final round was over, it was Winston and Genevie clutching the first- and second-place trophies.

And now Winston is headed to the national bee — again.   

The nine third-place finishers in the Orange County Spelling Bee

Nine students who tied for third place in the 55th annual Orange County Spelling Bee are recognized at the end of the competition.