Texas 8th grader Indian American Pranay Varada wins National Geographic Bee

Pranay Varada

Host Mo Rocca applauds at center as Thomas Wright, 14, of Milwaukee, Wis., left, congratulates Pranay Varada, 14, of Carrollton, Texas, on winning the 2017 National Geographic Bee, Wednesday, May 17, 2017, at the National Geographic Society in Washington.

WASHINGTON (Diya TV) — Pranay Varada was haunted by his performance in last year’s National Geographic Bee, where he infamously flubbed the official language of Sierra Leone — it’s English; he answered French — and finished in sixth place. Determined to overcome the adversity of the tournament during his final year of eligibility, Varada began studying for his resurgence on that very same day last year.

He’s spent the last year skipping school field trips and birthday parties to study spreadsheets he created with dossiers on every country in the world.

Varada’s hard work paid off on Wednesday: he stood on stage with a medal around his neck, accepting congratulations and prizes including a $50,000 scholarship.

“It was extreme disappointment, to get all the way up here and not win,” he said after the win. “I was researching and trying to find ways to not make the same mistakes twice.”

Varada, who lives in Texas, bested his opponent, who himself was also a top-10 finisher in last year’s tournament, Thomas Wright of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While it was Varada who had the best score through most of the two-hour competition, Wright gave him a scare when he pulled even by providing a more thorough answer to an essay-type question about a country that would be well-suited for resettling residents of the Maldives displaced by rising sea levels.

During the championship rounds, both boys got all five questions correct, but only after Pranay successfully challenged an answer that was initially deemed wrong. The question was about a mountain range between northern Vietnam and Laos; Pranav identified it as the Annamite Range and not the Annam Mountains.

“I was absolutely sure I could win that challenge,” he said.

With that, the Bee moved into sudden death. Varada won on the first tiebreaker question, correctly identifying the Kunlun Mountains as the 1,200-mile range that separates the Taklimakan Desert from the Tibetan Plateau.

Varada’s parents, who immigrated to the United States from India in the late 1990s, said they were mostly hands-off about preparing him for the bee, although his mother quizzed him with questions from his spreadsheets.

“There’s no way you can push a kid to learn geography,” said his father, Praveen Rao. “He’s very methodical and planned everything out.”

With his win, Varada becomes the sixth consecutive Indian-American to win the National Geographic Bee. The past 10 champions of the National Spelling Bee have also been Indian-American. But unlike many of those winners, Pranay did not participate heavily in bees run by the North South Foundation, an Indian-American nonprofit that serves as a training ground for a variety of academic competitions. The National Geographic Bee has been his competitive focus since fourth grade, when he finished second in the Texas state bee.

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