05/31/2013 at 09:25 AM EDT
At only 13 years old, Arvind Mahankali conquered "the German curse" on his way to becoming New York City's first student in 16 years to earn spelling's top prize.
Although he has never had a "knaidel," Mahankali was able to spell the German-derived Yiddish word for a dumpling Thursday night to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee's huge trophy and more than $30,000 in cash and prizes.
"The German curse," Arvind said, "has turned into a German blessing."
But not without a lot of hard work.
Arvind finished third in the spelling bee the two previous years, eliminated both times on German words, including "Jugendstil" and "schwannoma," which he got wrong. He quickly proclaimed: "I know what I have to study."
"I had begun to be a little wary of German words," Arvind said Thursday night. "But this year I prepared German words and I studied them, so when I got German words this year, I wasn't worried."
The audience groaned when Arvind got the word "dehnstufe" earlier in this year's finals. Milking the moment, he asked, "Can I have the language of origin?" before throwing his hands in the air with a wry smile when the answer came back "German." He then spelled the word, which means an Indo-European long-grade vowel, without a hitch.