‘Child Genius’: Spelling Champ Vanya Shivashankar Takes On New Group Of Whiz Kids

"It would be really cool to be an actress. But when I grow up I really want to be a cardiac surgeon."

Vanya Shivashankar appears on 'Child Genius'

Vanya Shivashankar is practically royalty at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Just 13, she’s made the finals three times, finishing in 5th place in 2013.

But how will the eighth grader from Olathe, Kansas fair against other young whiz kids in a head-to-head competition that includes math, zoology, earth science and memory tests?

Vanya is one of 20 super smart youngsters (ages 8 to 12) featured on the new Lifetime series CHILD GENIUS.

“This competition was really fun and really interesting because I got to learn about a whole variety of different topics,” she says.  “It was different from the spelling bee because I got to do so many more things.”

The eight week series — produced in cooperation with Mensa — offers a $100,000 prize to its winner.


I spoke with Vanya just hours after she won her middle school spelling bee for the final time in late December.

She talked about preparing for CHILD GENIUS and looked ahead to her final shot at the national bee.

Are you trying to become a reality TV star?
No. [laughs] I just really thought this was a really great experience and I had a lot of fun doing it.

To win CHILD GENIUS you have to be an expert at a lot of subjects.  Were you already good at things like math and geography?
When I started off the competition, I just sort of played off each round by what it was.  I mean, I might have been better at geography or something, but it was a new learning experience for me.  If I moved on, I would learn more things.

So they gave you a heads up and told you what the next round would be, so you could study?
Yeah.  Yeah.

Obviously you have drills to prepare for the Bee. How do you prepare for something like this?
In this competition, really, it was so different because spelling is year round (preparation) and this was very spread out and different topics.  So really it was what we were told we might need to study.

What was the best part of competing on CHILD GENIUS?
Meeting all these cool kids.  They are so intelligent, yet so nice.  I made so many new friendships and really, the whole experience was so great.  I am so thankful that I was able to be a part of it.

Did you always consider yourself to be a child genius?
Well, I always knew that I am pretty smart.  Not that I am smarter than other people, but I really enjoy school and learning things.  I don’t know about “child genius” but I have really had a lot of fun experiences when it comes to learning.

You sure seem smart!  Do you struggle with anything?
Oh, definitely.  I mean, at school I study for my tests and whatever.  But obviously there are always some things that are harder than others.

Do you always get A’s?
Well, yeah. [laughs] I have all A’s on my report cards.  I usually strive to do my best on everything I can.

Do you beat yourself up if you blow a big test?
I really don’t.  But I know that I can always do better.  I will just be like, “I didn’t do that well on this test or assignment, so I can focus better next time.”  It is really all just a learning experience.

You are great on camera.  Have you ever thought about a career in TV or movies?
Well I really do enjoy acting.  I do a bunch of theater in my school and I do enjoy the spotlight and whatever, so yeah.  It would be really cool to be an actress.  But when I grow up I really want to be a cardiac surgeon.

Why do you want to be a cardiac surgeon?
I have just been really fascinated with the human body and specifically the heart and how it works, so I thought that would be a really fun career decision.  Hopefully I can do that when I get older.

At least you won’t have any problem with the extra years of school then…

What do you like to do when you are not studying or competing?
I like playing the piano.  I love hanging out with my friends. I swim.  I play with my dog.  I do a lot of acting and theater.

There is a pre-conception about kids who participate in the spelling bee or other competitions.  Some people think it is all work and no fun.  What was it like in your house?
My parents and my family are so supportive.  We always have so much fun.  It was never like, “You have to study for 10 hours, you can’t do anything else.”  It was never like that.  Really, it was just like all of our passions coming together.  When I feel like I need a break, I take a break and go hang out with my friends.  And then when I feel like I want to study I go back and do that.  So it was never like I was forced to do any of that.

Your older sister, Kavya, won the National Spelling Bee in 2009.  Does that put extra pressure on you?
No.  Not in my family. I don’t really take the pressure because I know I am really doing this for me and having a lot of fun.  I don’t feel the pressure on me.  I just keep doing what I am doing and I have a lot of fun doing it.


Sean Daly

Sean Daly

Editor-In-Chief at TheTVPage.com
Sean Daly is a veteran entertainment journalist.His work has appeared in People, Us Weekly, The Toronto Star and other top publications. He was the west coast TV reporter for The New York Post from 2008 - 2013. Sean is the author of Inside AGT: The Untold Stories of America's Got Talent and Teen Mom Confidential: Secrets and Scandals From MTV's Most Controversial Shows.
Sean Daly