National Spell-It-Right Challenge: Friends, not foes
THE four-way tiebreaker to determine second place at the recent RHB New Straits Times National Spell-It-Right (SIR) Challenge secondary category in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, hardly resembled a battle.
If the audience had expected animosity between the four remaining contestants — who were vying for the runners-up spots after 15-year-old spelling-meister Kenneth Wu Min Jin was announced as the state champion for the third consecutive year — they were sorely disappointed.
The four girls — Dharmini Devan Nair, 16, from SMK Bukit Mewah, her classmate Stephanie Liew San San, 16, as well as SMK Puteri Negeri Sembilan students Samantha George Peter, 16, and Nanthiny Nagarajah, 14 — were seen chatting with each other on stage while waiting for their turn to spell.
Liew, the eventual fourth place winner, later revealed that she was satisfied with the results.
“I am happy because I had lost to friends,” says Liew, who has been classmates with Dharmini since they were 14 years old.
Except for Samantha and Nanthiny who were first-time contenders, Liew, Dharmini and Wu had shared the SIR Challenge stage before.
Liew, the youngest child of two siblings, finished second behind Wu in last year‘s challenge.
Dharmini, on the other hand, placed third in the same contest.
It is only natural for them to cross each other’s paths outside of the spelling bee as all of them had spent most of their childhood in Seremban.
Liew and Samantha went to the same primary school, whereas Dharmini and Wu were once in a choir together at music school.
“I remember (Wu) asking me about the spelling contest back in 2008 because I had just won the state primary category. He was keen to take part the next year,“ says Dharmini.
Wu signed up for the primary level challenge in 2009 and emerged triumphant. He later became the national champion.
Dharmini assures that there is only friendly rivalry between the contestants.
“We all took part for the fun of it. It was a stroke of luck that we were in the top five together,” says the fourth-former.
She admits to feeling a strong sense of déjà vu as she stepped onto the stage during the finals.
“(Stephanie) and I were in the same situation last year. We were also up against a girl from SMK Puteri Negeri Sembilan then,” says Dharmini.
The speller Sasha Devi Selvanayagam, now 18, won fourth place.
Dharmini not only walked away with RM2,500 in cash but also made a new friend at the recent SIR Challenge.
“Getting along with Samantha was easy because she is so friendly. I was just getting to know her before the finals. We were both complaining how the spotlights were burning our eyes on stage,” she says.
Dharmini looks forward to seeing familiar faces in next year‘s challenge, which is the last year for her to try her luck.
“Taking part in the SIR Challenge is an annual tradition for me. I will make time for it next year even though I will be busy preparing for Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia,” she adds.