Scripps National Spelling Bee
Nihar Janga and Jairam Hathwar celebrate as co-champions during the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

WASHINGTON (Diya TV) — Indian American comedian Hari Kondabolu, once famously called the Scripps Spelling Bee the ‘Indian Super Bowl‘. While funny, it was also an apt comparison. When fans tuned into ESPN last year to watch the Scripps National Spelling Bee, they were shocked by the victory of 11-year-old Nihar Janga, a fifth grader who was making his inaugural appearance in the tournament.

But for seasoned veterans of the tournament, he was hardly an enigma.

To the tight-knit community of competitors who keep track of performances in the weeks and days leading up to the tournament, Nihar was who they thought he was: a seasoned competitor with an impressive resume and a threat to win it all.

As the bee has become increasingly more competitive throughout the years, fewer winners have emerged from the shadows to hoist the trophy. The information available on competitors is nearly at the fingertips of every other competitor, and champion spellers have increasingly fit a familiar profile. For them, the bee is an all-consuming, year-round pursuit.

“There’s definitely an established set of favorites, and as you have more well-known spelling bees to compete in, you have more barometers of how well people are going to do,” said Mitchell Robson, 15, who finished 7th in last year’s bee. “There’s usually one or two people you see coming out of nowhere every year, but it’s definitely very difficult to have more than that. … Last year, Nihar Janga definitely did not come of nowhere.”

Nihar was regarded as a threat because, the previous summer, he had finished second in the North South Foundation spelling bee. The nonprofit foundation hosts national competitions for Indian-Americans in a variety of academic fields. The last 10 National Spelling Bee winners have participated in the foundation’s spelling bee, and 17 of the past 21 champions have been Indian-American. Also, three of the nine kids who’ve won the South Asian Spelling Bee have gone on to win the Scripps bee.

Two years ago, Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam easily withstood the pressure of being labeled co-favorites and shared the title. And last year, Nihar was co-champion with Jairam Hathwar, a seasoned speller whose older brother himself shared the title with Ansun in 2014.

For this year’s bee, which starts Tuesday, three spellers are consensus favorites: Shourav Dasari, a past North South Foundation and South Asian Spelling Bee champion whose older sister came close several times; Siyona Mishra, who won last year’s South Asian bee and finished 9th in her only National Spelling Bee appearance; and Tejas Muthusamy, who’s making his fourth appearance, with two previous top-10 finishes.

Even if one of the favorites ends up winning, the bee still has plenty of surprises. Last year, Shourav was also highly touted, but he misspelled a word and fell just short of the prime-time finals. And incase you are forgetting the youngest-ever contestant of the Scripps Spelling Bee Finals from 2016, Akash Vukoti, here he is giving Steve Harvey a run for his money: