Tracing the letters on the back of his number card, Ansun Sujoe almost laughed as he spelled his first word “laulau” correctly during the semifinals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
And with the same ease on the second word, he advanced to the finals, one of only 12 students left.
“Oh laulau!” said Sujoe, 13, of Euless and a student at Bethesda Christian School in Fort Worth, after several requests for the definition, language of origin and pronunciation of the word.
“I was anxious to get done,” said Sujoe, who represents TCU and the Star-Telegram in the bee. “I wanted to get words that I know and I’m quite happy that I did.”
Rounds 5 and 6 of the national spelling bee began at 9 a.m. CST Thursday. There were 46 spellers remaining for the two semifinal rounds, after 235 spellers were eliminated yesterday.
Sujoe survived round 5 easily and remained on stage under bright lights and ESPN cameras. The semifinal rounds lasted for more than three hours. Sujoe’s second word, “ormolu,” he also spelled without a problem.
After round 6, only 31 spellers remained on stage. The 12 finalists were chosen from that group based on scores from a computer test Wednesday night.
Sujoe will compete in the finals tonight beginning at 7 CST, and broadcast live on ESPN2.
“I’m pretty relieved I’m a semifinalist,” Sujoe said. “All of that hard work paid off.”
Determined to move on
Sujoe was also the North Texas representative last year and was eliminated before the semifinals.
As their names were called Wednesday, the semifinalists lined up on the stage of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center with medals around their necks.
In the second round Wednesday, Sujoe easily spelled Buddha for the judges and several hundred audience members, allowing him to continue to the third round. At that stage, he mastered carabao, a buffalo from the Philippines, a word he said he was already familiar with.
“Last year I wasn’t able to [advance], so I was determined this year that I’d study more,” he said.
Sujoe said that knowing what to expect allowed him to study more effectively and return to the competition with more confidence.
“Last year was kind of an experiment round for us, so I didn’t really do that well,” he said. “But this year I have a little experience from last year so I know what to expect.”
Sujoe said his father helps him learn new words, and his mother and younger sister give him encouragement and determination.
“He worked very hard, and I’m very happy that he’s rewarded,” said Angel Sujoe, his mother. “At least now he’s into the semifinals, last year he was very disappointed. He is very happy, so we as parents are very happy.”
‘Defeat the words’
Unlike some other spellers who were clearly affected by nerves, the veteran Sujoe said he was only dealing with boredom waiting for his turn.
Sujoe stays on friendly terms with his competition, earning and giving out high-fives.
“I don’t recognize them as rivals or anything and trying to beat them,” he said. “It’s kind of like a partnership to defeat the words.”
Still, he acknowledged, “Someone has to win outright in the end.”
Sujoe described the experience as “thrilling” and plans to come back next year.