Bruhat Soma was unbeatable before he arrived at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and neither the dictionary, nor his competitors, nor a lightning-round tiebreaker challenged him on the way to victory.

Bruhat spelled 29 words correctly in the tiebreaker, beating Faizan Zaki by nine, to win the title on Thursday night. He receives a trophy and more than $50,000 in cash and prizes.

The 12-year-old seventh-grader from Tampa, Florida, had won three consecutive bees before arriving at a convention center outside Washington for the most prestigious spelling competition in the English language.

“I always want to win. And this was, like, my main goal,” Bruhat said. “It didn't matter if I won all those other bees. This is what I was aiming for. So I'm just really happy that I won this.”

The bee began with eight finalists, the fewest since 2010, and it was clear from the outset that Scripps was trying to fill the 2-hour broadcast window on Ion, a network owned by the Cincinnati-based media company. There were frequent lengthy commercial breaks that allowed spellers to mill about at the side of the stage, chatting with their coaches, relatives and supporters.

And then bee officials announced it was time for the tiebreaker, known as a “spell-off,” before Bruhat and Faizan were even given a chance to spell against each other in a conventional round.

“I do wish that we would have gotten to see more of a duel between them,” said Charlotte Walsh, who dueled with Dev Shah last year, ultimately finishing as the runner-up. “It's a really interesting choice to go straight into the spell-off.”

Bruhat went first, and after he got through 30 words, it appeared it would be impossible to beat. Faizan’s pace was more uneven at the outset. He attempted 25 words but flubbed four of them.

Shortly after Bruhat was showered with confetti and handed the trophy, Faizan was in tears at the side of the stage, accepting hugs from other spellers. A few minutes earlier, he had hugged his good friend, Shrey Parikh, after Shrey was eliminated onstage.

Coming into the competition, Bruhat won the Words of Wisdom bee hosted by Scott Remer, a former speller, coach and study guide author. He won the SpellPundit bee organized by that study guide company. And he won the first-ever online bee emceed by Dev, last year's Scripps National Spelling Bee champion.

His last loss was in September at the WishWin senior spelling bee. He missed on “Gloucester,” a cheese named for the city in England.

“After that, I guess I just went on a winning streak,” he said.

Ben Nuckols has covered the Scripps National Spelling Bee since 2012. Follow him at