And that’s how you spell CHAMP


Spelling bee winner Anirudh says he now wants to learn words in new languages. That’s before becoming a neuroscientist

Anirudh stole the heart of the nation when he spelled words like guernsey and ricochet on television to win the first season of Ten’s surprise hit The Great Australian Spelling Bee.

The bright nine-year-old beat fellow contestant Grace in a nail-biting decider in September to take home the top prize. In doing so, it seems he also achieved the near impossible: making spelling cool.

Anirudh told The Indian Sun he now gets approached by fans who are eager to see him demonstrate his spelling prowess.

“I do get recognised, especially when we go for shopping or playing in the park,” he said.“People approach me, congratulate me and also take photos with me. Some even ask me to spell some words!”

The talented youngster was among 52 children drawn from a pool of 3000 nationwide who made it through to the televised rounds of the spelling competition. The show itself was dreamed up by production company Shine, which puts together reality favourites MasterChef Australia, The Voice, and The Bachelor. Educational experts were also enlisted to help with development, including the Office of the Children’s Guardian and Macquarie Dictionary.

The show comes after spelling bee competitions became immensely popular in the US – where the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee is televised and draws impressive ratings. The Australian show is shaking up the format by veering away from the US-style sports coverage and towards reality TV, to show the ‘human journey’ behind the competition.

Reflecting on his time in the limelight, Anirudh described it as “a great experience”.

“But of course my most favourite moment was when I lifted up the trophy,” Anirudh said. “That’s when I realised that this is true and not just a dream.”

“The most nail-biting moment was during the grand finale. This is because I was up against the top best spellers in Australia,” he said.

How did he keep his cool when the cameras were rolling?

“No matter where you are or what kind of competition you are against, staying focused is key,” Anirudh said.

The nine-year-old also knew not to worry about the final outcome. “Just give it your best shot,” he said, describing his technique.

“If you keep this in mind then it does not create any stress and if you are calm, it will help to focus more and achieve what you want to achieve,” he said.

While Anirudh’s relatives were thrilled to see him win – including cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles who watched the show in India and America – most proud perhaps was his father, Prithivi.

“We as parents are very happy for him, not only because he has become a spelling champion, but also [because] his potential which we knew as parents has been recognised nationally,” Prithivi told the Indian Sun.

Prithivi said he was thrilled the young contestants were being celebrated for their spelling abilities and that the show had “inspired so many kids to love spelling”.

“We are very happy not only for him but for all the top 52 kids. It’s a great achievement!” he said.

Anirudh’s classmates and teachers at Kingston Heath Primary also tuned in to watch him compete on the show religiously and celebrated his win in a big way, according to Prithivi.

“At school they also had a special presentation at the end of term assembly and the school head mentioned Anirudh to be a great ambassador for the school,” Prithivi said.

Does the proud father have any secrets on how to raise a spelling prodigy?

“We use to read to him every single day even when he was a new born,” Prithivi recalled. “Our book time ritual at bed time was to read him this book called I Believe in Me.”

Motivationally titled children’s books aside, Prithivi said Anirudh showed a natural interest in learning “from a very early age”.

“He was about 18 months of age… [when he began] to say his alphabet and was starting to recognise and read words by two years of age,” Prithivi said.

He said the surprise $50,000 scholarship Anirudh won was being put aside for his tertiary education. The primary school student currently has his heart set on studying to become a neuroscientist.

“I love the human body,” Anirudh said. “The brain interests me a lot. Especially I want to help people suffering from brain disease like Alzheimer’s.”

And despite being crowned Australia’s best speller, the talented youngster has no plans to give up his dedication to learning new words just yet. Instead he’s looking to broaden his spelling skills in other languages.

“I love to read in Tamil,” Anirudh said. “One day I want to be a good speller in Tamil as well.”

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