The Alaska State Spelling Bee came down to a derisive French term for an artist Thursday, as a Chugiak teen walked away with top honors.

Josh Saylor, from Mirror Lake Middle School, sealed his victory by correctly spelling "pompier." He stayed cool under round after round of pressure in the event, featuring 150 students ranging from third through eighth grade at the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel.

Forty-five seconds at a time, the tension built as students correctly spelled potential stumpers like "apartheid," "spinet" and "nemesis." That's when the war of words began in earnest, with judges asking kids to correctly spell entries like "blitzkrieg," "recidivist" and "pentathlon."

Amid the verbal marathon, some finalists might feel "c, y, n, i, c, a, l -- cynical," or sit and and do some "s, u, r, v, e, i, l, l, a, n, c, e -- surveillance" on their competitors.

As more and more students struck out, drawing the dreaded "I'm sorry, that's not correct" from judges, they began to study during their downtime -- but there were still chances to walk away a winner, as organizers handed out iPads at random to participants.

Saylor's success earns him a trip to Washington, D.C., to vie for victory in the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

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