Dubai, UAE: After besting around 90 finalists in a gruelling eight-hour contest, a Grade 10 student from Cambridge International School Dubai was named UAE’s spelling bee champion on Saturday night.
Shaun Fernandes, 15, claimed the grand prize of Dh25,000 at Kellogg’s Coco Pops Spelling Bee Championship held at Dubai Parks and Resorts, besides winning an all-expense paid trip to Washington DC to watch the US Scripps National Spelling Bee championship in May 2018.
Fernandes was also declared the zone winner and grade level winner, bringing his total cash haul to Dh35,000.
Shaun did not misspell a single word from the opening round up to round 12, when he approached the mic and correctly spelled ‘xenolith’, a word of Greek origin which means “a rock trapped inside another rock”, to cinch his win.
“I still can’t believe that I won,” Shaun told Khaleej Times. “I thought I would be out in the first found. My preparations did not feel adequate. Also simulataneously preparing for my exams before the competition, I had had many sleepless nights.”
But Shaun did not show his apprehension and displayed great confidence onstage, always flashing a toothy smile after correctly spelling a word. He was, however, taken aback in round 4 when given the word ‘schefflera’ to spell out.
“I asked for the word’s origin – it’s Latin and a plant named after a German botanist. The clues helped me to figure it out and spell it correctly,” Shaun explained.
From then on, Shaun cruised to victory, displaying his spelling and phonetics skills. He listened carefully to each word to avoid confusion, like when he spelled out ‘malocology’, “a branch of invertebrate zoology that deals with the study of mollusks.”
His victory also served as a vindication after he suffered an early exit from the competition two years ago, after when misspelling ‘vesicant.’ Ironically, he said vesicant, a chemical agent that causes burns and destruction of skin tissue, became one of his favourite words later.
Shaun’s parents were equally proud of him. His mother Sarah Fernandes said: “The spelling bee is a great platform for young minds. Shaun has alway been a hardworking child with varied interests, including music, dance and sports. This year’s contest was special for him as this was the last time he could participate, as it is only open for students up to grade 10. So he really worked hard for it and we spent hours learning words.”
Aside from being a spelling champ, Shaun is also a stage performer. He will be essaying the role of Sonny in a school play adaptation of the hit musicale ‘Grease’. He also plans to study medicine at John Hopkins University and specialise in neurology.
“As a student, I’m really lazy at times. But I am also very determined and I always keep on pushing myself. I’m not there yet – there are a lot of things I want to accomplish. But at the moment I will just enjoy my victory, prepare for my US trip and help my eight-year old sister become a spelling champ herself,” Shaun concluded.
Meanwhile, Renuka Singh and Sunanda Lal, managing directors of Spelling Bee UAE, said the US Scripps National Spelling Bee is closely watching the UAE competition. Around 1,2000 students from 37 schools across the UAE participated this year. The annual spelling competition started in 2011 and is patterned after the US national spelling bee.
Kellogg’s Coco Pops Spelling Bee Championship – List of complete Winners
Top 10 Finalists: