The big shocker in Thursday's semifinals came when top contender Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, was eliminated.
Twelve-year-old Vanya, a three-time finalist whose older sister was the 2009 bee winner, correctly spelled both words onstage but didn't get a high enough score on two computerised spelling and vocabulary tests to advance.
The lone repeat finalist, Sriram Hawar, 14, of Painted Post, New York, is back for his fifth and final spelling bee by correctly spelling "favus" and "quatrefoil". Last year, he placed third.
The youngest speller to make the cut was 11-year-old Tejas Muthusamy of Glen Allen, Virginia.
In the semifinals, he nailed the spelling of "commorients" and "exsiccosis".
The fifth grader earned a perfect score earlier this year in the WordMasters Challenge, an analogy and verbal reasoning competition.
Neha Konakalla, 14, 8th grade student from Cupertino, California made it by correctly spelling "graveolent" and "glaucescent" in the semi finals.
Gokul Venkatachalam, 13, a 7th grader from Chesterfield, Missouri did it with "morbilli" and "colloque."
Ashwin Veeramani, 14, 8th grades from North Royalton, Ohio did it with "daphnean" and "extincteur."
Ansun Sujoe, 13, 7th grade from Fort Worth, Texas got through with "laulau" and "ormolu."
Earlier Meghana Kamineni of Lockport, Illinois, correctly spelled "cachinnate," which means to laugh loudly. But could not make it to the finals.
Last year's winner, New York middle-schooler Arvind Mahankali, was the sixth Indian American in a row to take the title and a $30,000 (RM96,000) scholarship.
Indian Americans, who have won the championship ten times in the last 15 years, swept the top three spots last year, the same as the year before.