P-E-R-S-E-V-E-R-A-N-C-E.

Vivian Petrecca can probably spell the word even though it wasn't on the vocabulary list at Tuesday's 30th annual Fairfield Spelling Bee for fifth graders in the auditorium of Roger Ludlowe Middle School.

The 11-year-old Burr School student, who dodged elimination several times, claimed the top prize in the tenth round of the bee, sponsored by the Junior Women's Club of Fairfield and the Fairfield University Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions.

Vivian bested 41 students from 13 Fairfield public and private schools, who vied for a U.S. Savings Bond and the chance to compete in the statewide spelling bee next month. That honor goes to the top two finishers.

In round seven, Vivian was asked to spell "bouquet." Although she spelled it correctly, the announcer mistakenly told her she had not. In round nine, Vivian struggled with the word "inundate" for what must have seemed to her an eternity before arranging the letters in the proper order and moving forward in the competition.

"I'd never heard the word before even though I've read a lot. I thought I was done right there," Vivian said.

Then in the final round the only remaining competitor, Finn Schneble, 10, of Riverfield School, misspelled "metamorphosis." But Vivian could not capitalize on Finn's mistake. She correctly spelled his word but had to get one more right before claiming the crown.

Misspelling the word "occurrence" put Finn back in the race. He spelled his next word -- "conscience" -- correctly, but stumbled on "obnoxious."

Vivian then went on to secure the spelling crown after spelling that word correctly as well as the next one, "hallucination." Vivian admits she was more nervous handling earlier rounds than the final one. "I was already thrilled to be second. I was still going to the state (spelling bee) so I wasn't as sad as I would have been," she said.

Fiona Kennelly, 11, of Stratfield School, could not disguise her disappointment at not reaching the final round. But even though shedding a few tears, Fiona admitted the spelling bee was fun and she kept a sense of humor. "I learned how to spell `inaccessible,' " she said of the word that ended her chances in round 8. "I've been wanting to do this since second grade," she said.

Other words that tripped up young spellers included distance, magazine, thieves, horizon, separate and valuable.

Skylar Thomas, 11, of Mill Hill School, made it to the top six contestants, but misspelled "privilege" in round 9.

Finn said he was nervous at first "but after a round or two you settle in and you get used to it."

"It's nerve-wracking and it's exciting," Skylar said during a break in the competition after round 3. He said he studied every day for about 30 to 40 minutes. Skylar and a handful of other students used various techniques to help with the spelling challenges. He tapped his left hand against his thigh with each letter he recited, while Madison Lee, a Riverfield School student, spelled the word into her hand, tracing the letters with her index finger.

About 250 parents, siblings, teachers and friends attended the bee to cheer on their favorites.

"I wanted to support her because she's a good friend of mine," said Lily Cherniske, 10, of Stratfield School about Maura Keary, 11. Lily said she helped her friend prepare for the bee by calling her grandmother, an English teacher, and getting tips on how to correctly spell frequently misspelled words, like weird.

Vivian said she plans to prepare for the state spelling bee. "I'll just practice, practice, practice," she said.

As the Fairfield runner-up, Finn will also compete at the state bee, and third-place finisher Ben Walker, 11, of Burr School, will serve as the alternate.