RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Perry Potasi was a long shot, so much so that she didn’t expect to make it past the first round.

But after 18 rounds at the 31st annual European PTA Spelling Bee on Saturday, it was down to just her and Anuk Dayaprema, who, if anything, was the favorite after winning the competition the last two years.

The two traded places before the microphone for 10 head-to-head rounds, with Perry, an 11-year-old fifth-grader from Hohenfels Elementary School, rattling off spellings with an almost reckless abandon as Anuk, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Vicenza Middle School in Italy, dissected words with the cool efficiency of a surgeon.

In round 29, though, Perry stumbled on “raconteur,” thrown by a pronunciation she hadn’t heard before. Anuk, a spelling machine who has won here every time he’s competed, ended it all by properly spelling the championship word: Fräulein.

“That’s what I look forward to – not winning, but ending,” Anuk said afterward. “I mean, winning, too. But being up there, you get butterflies in your stomach.”

For the third time in three tries, Anuk will head to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May, where he’s twice finished in the top 50 as the representative for Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe.

Competition at the national level is tough, he said, dominated by spellers who study far more than the two to three hours he commits to the task every day.

“I hope I can at least get past prelims and hopefully get a good place in semis,” he said.

At three days long, that contest will be far different than the Europe bee, which was finished unusually fast this year, despite going two more rounds than last year. After all 28 DODDS competitors in grades three through eight from schools across Europe skated through the first round, the second saw the first four spellers eliminated right off the bat, and the last four were taken out by misspellings of polder, pinafore, animosity and furlong.

Eight spellers remained after round six, and half of those were gone by the start of round 13. When all four made it through five rounds without dropping a word, the judges conferred and skipped forward in the word list to a harder section.

The next round saw two more drop off on misspellings of tritium and mozzarella, leaving a nervous Perry and an apparently imperturbable Anuk to duel it out.

Perry, a first-time competitor with three years of eligibility left, will stand in if Anuk for some reason can’t make it to the national competition in Washington – far better than she expected to finish as a spelling bee rookie.

“I thought I was going to get out first,” she said, even after the three months of cramming for eight hours a day with her mom. “I can’t believe I won second place in one try.”

Anuk, meanwhile, is preparing simultaneously for his third trip to the capital as well as for the MathCounts competition in Wiesbaden, Germany, at the end of March, which could earn him another trip to the U.S.

“I like spelling, I like reading,” he said, “but I’m more of a math-science person.”

Twitter: @MattMillham

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