Ryan Andrew A Salao, 13, became the first champ of his kind at the inaugural RHB Spelling Masters 2015 in Kuala Lumpur yesterday (Nov 22).
The Mayflower Primary School pupil emerged top speller of Singapore and Malaysia, after a five-round competition involving 20 representatives from two countries.
He, along with Navin Sivakumar, 12, Iman Hariz Mohd Shahrizal (Malaysia), 10, and Wan Amirul Aqil Wan Alias (Malaysia), 11, were also team champions.
"When we spelled our last 100-point word and got it correct, my first thought was: We won! Just those two words," said Ryan, who won on the word "balbriggan".
Jamie Aishirya Kumar, 12, Malaysia’s champion speller from SK Sri Tebrau, was proud to be her country’s top speller. "It's awesome because at the last competition I was second, so it's nice to beat the first-place winner."
In a show of skill and confidence – and a bit of luck – spellers spent half a day pitting their spelling prowess against one another, beginning at 8am with an individual written round. They then broke into five teams of four for subsequent rounds: Team Spell Champs, Fantastic Four, Spelltroopers, D’Erudite and Phoenix.
At the event were 200 invited guests, including family members of those competing, senior management from sponsor RHB Banking Group, as well as representatives from the Malaysian education ministry, Singapore Press Holdings, and Malaysia’s English broadsheet New Straits Times.
Contestants took to the stage to spell for their teams individually, instantly wowing the crowd.
All groaned in sympathy when the team called Fantastic Four lost two turns to spell during the "Spin And Spell" third round, then cheered as they recovered in the fourth round, "Put Your Heads Together".
The competition climaxed with the fifth round, during which VIP guests drew words from a "Vault", each worth 100 points.
Tan Sri Azlan Zainol, 65, chairman of RHB Bank Berhad, was as excited as anyone.
"Today is a culmination of what we have always wanted to do," he said. "Put the best of the two countries together. Not just Malaysia against Singapore, but Malaysia with Singapore."
The cross-border game play was designed by the award-winning Straits Times Schools team, namely deputy editor Serene Luo.
"We developed a format that would promote cooperation and make spelling fun in a way that a game-show might," said the 32-year-old, who was also the internal emcee for the show.
Stalwarts from the RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship made up the rest of the team, with arbitrator Soo Kim Bee, a Ministry of Education Master Teacher at the English Language Institute of Singapore, and pronouncer Nora Samosir, a lecturer at NUS' Department of English Language and Literature. They joined Malaysian judge Ramesh Nair, who is an associate professor at the Academy of Language Studies Universiti Teknologi MARA.
Ms Serene Goh, 44, the team’s editor and Singapore judge, noted that the Masters format took spelling to another level.
"It was great to watch national champions from both countries show off their chops. They were in fine form, competitive and confident. In fact many fared well at 100-point words, but tripped over the 10-point ones."
Round 1: Written round of 25 words
Each speller filled up an answer sheet, with marks going to their individual scores.
Round 2: All For One
Each speller orally spelt a 10-point word, which went towards their team scores.
Round 3: Spin And Spell
Each team spun the wheel twice, spelling the words from the point category it landed on.
Round 4: Put Your Heads Together
Spellers picked a word based on five categories: Arts, Culture and Lifestyle; Business and Finance; Current Affairs; Science and Technology, and Mystery - which had words from various genres.
Round 5: Words From The Vault
VIPs picked 100-points words out of a "vault", for the teams to spell.
Team Spell Champs
Karrthik Sathiyamorthy, 12 (Malaysia), Jerome Thomas Ng, 11, Najihah Humairah Mohd Najmuddin, 10 (Malaysia), Selina Peh, 12.
Sng Hwee Woon, 11, Justinian Guan, 11, Ng Anna, 11 (Malaysia), Kingston Lee, 12 (Malaysia).
Navin Sivakumar, 12, Ryan Andrew A Salao, 13, Iman Hariz Mohd Shahrizal, 10 (Malaysia), Wan Amirul Aqil Wan Alias, 11 (Malaysia).
Jamie Aishirya Kumar, 12 (Malaysia), Neil Goh, 12, Dilan Tan, 11, Emmanuel Chong, 12 (Malaysia).
Eda Chua, 12, Arisya Azizi, 12 (Malaysia), Matthew Goh, 12, Tunku Zehn Tunku Azmi, 12 (Malaysia).