Snigdha Nandipati, 14, won the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night by spelling "guetapens," which means an ambush, snare or trap.
"I was just taking it one word at a time," the eighth-grader from San Diego told CNN on Friday morning. "I just wanted to get each word right. I didn't really think about winning, really."
She said that properly spelling the winning word, which is derived from French, was not difficult. She had seen the word before and knew it, she said.
Nandipati didn't truly register her victory until the confetti started falling, she said.
"I didn't expect to win. There were some very good competitors this year," she said.
In last year's spelling bee, she tied for 27th place.
Nandipati's victory in the 13th round came moments after her final challenger, Stuti Mishra of Orlando, also 14, stumbled over the spelling of "schwarmerei," which means excessive, unbridled enthusiasm or attachment.
Arvind Mahankali, a 12-year-old seventh-grader from New York City, came in third when he misspelled "schwannoma," a tumor of the sheath of a peripheral nerve.
According to a tweet from @ScrippsBee, Nandipati studied six hours per day. She was cheered on by her brother, her parents (her father coached her) and her grandparents, who had traveled from India to watch.
The contest was held in the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington.
Nandipati wins $30,000 and an engraved trophy from Scripps, a $2,500 U.S. savings bond and reference library from Merriam-Webster, a $5,000 scholarship from the Sigma Phil Epsilon Educational Foundation and more than $2,600 in reference works from Encyclopaedia Britannica.
This year's spelling bee saw the youngest contestant, 6-year-old Lori Anne Madison of Lake Ridge, Virginia. She spelled "dirigible" with aplomb, but was eliminated Wednesday night when she misspelled "ingluvies," which is a pouch used by birds as a receptacle for food.
Nicholas Rushlow, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Lancaster, Ohio, was eliminated when he misspelled "vetiver," an aeromatic grass whose especially fragrant root yields an oil used in perfumery and mats in India. Asked what was going through his mind when he heard the word, he said, "Oh, crap."
It was his fifth and final performance in the contest.
Asked what he was going to do with all the time he had previously devoted to spelling, he said, "I'm going to have to find a new hobby."