Sameer Mishra provided more than just comic relief at the 2008 Scripps National Spelling Bee: He won.
The 13-year-old from West Lafayette, Ind., who often had the audience laughing with his one-line quips, was all business when he aced "guerdon" -- a word that means "something that one has earned or gained" -- to win the bee Friday night.
"I don't know about comedy lines, but my parents have been telling me since the beginning that I should always stay calm, cool and collected," said Sameer, who likes playing the violin and video games and hopes one day to be a neurosurgeon.
Sameer, appearing in the bee for the fourth time and a top 20 finisher the last two years, clenched his fists and put his hands to his face after spelling the winning word.
He won a tense duel over first-time participant Sidharth Chand, 12, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., who finally stumbled on "prosopopoeia," which describes a figure of speech.
Sameer was a crowd favorite throughout the tournament. When told that one of his words was a dessert, he deadpanned: "That sounds good right now." He rolled his eyes and muttered "wonderful" when told that one of his words had five different language roots. He once asked, "Are you sure there are no alternate pronunciations?"
And what did he have to say while hoisting the heavy trophy? "I'm really, really weak."
He won $35,000 in cash and more than $5,000 in other prizes.
Third place went to Tia Thomas, 13, of Coarsegold, Calif., who was eliminated on "opificer" (a skilled or artistic worker). Tia was one of the favorites, appearing in her fifth and final bee after an eighth-place finish a year ago.
The finals were aired in prime time on ABC.
Among the spectators was Frank Neuhauser, 94, the winner of the first national bee in 1925. Asked to spell his winning word from 83 years ago, he rattled off "gladiolus" as if he were racing through his ABCs.
"It's an easy word," he said.
Neuhauser's prize was $500 in $20 gold pieces. He also was feted with a parade through his hometown of Louisville, Ky.
"It was a lot easier back then," he told the audience. "There were only eight competitors instead of 288. I'd never make it now."