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BBC pulls Christmas University Challenge after complaints from disabled contestants

Amol Rajan took over as presenter of the show in July this year, becoming only the third host in the quiz’s history
Amol Rajan took over as presenter of the show in July this year, becoming only the third host in the quiz’s history - Ric Lowe

The BBC has pulled a Christmas episode of University Challenge, following complaints from two contestants that their disabilities had not been accommodated on the programme.

Alumni University Challenge, a seasonal special of the BBC Two quiz hosted by Amol Rajan, involves teams competing on behalf of their former universities.

In the episode, filmed in November, two Oxford and Cambridge colleges competed against each other, though the names of the colleges or team members have not been revealed.

Two contestants alerted the producers to their disabilities prior to recording and made requests for additional provisions, including subtitles and audio description to aid them during the show, the BBC reported.

After the episode was filmed, one participant, who is blind, said that competing in the show had been “distressing” as they had not been provided with audio description, despite being told it would be made available.

Another contestant, who said they were neurodivergent, had made a request for subtitles to be made available, but this did not happen.

The producers reportedly said they were unable to provide subtitles but would be able to provide audio description, though this did not happen

The BBC said it had apologised to those involved, while University Challenge’s production company, Lifted Entertainment, part of ITV Studios, offered its “sincere apologies”.

The blind contestant told the BBC that they were told a minute before the show that there was no audio description and “that your captain will instead have to explain everything”.

They added that the visual images needing description included a pie chart and maps, which was “distressing”.

‘Overstimulating for neurodivergent contestant’

The neurodivergent contestant told the broadcaster they have challenges processing sound and that they had requested subtitles so that would not be placed at a disadvantage when answering questions quickly.

“Unfortunately, I was told this wasn’t possible,” they said, adding that while they agreed to take part it had been “overwhelming and overstimulating”.

The contestants, who have asked to remain anonymous, complained to the BBC following the recording and asked for the episode not to be broadcast. On Friday, a decision was made to pull the episode, which both contestants said they appreciated.

Rajan took over as presenter of the programme in July this year, becoming only the third host in the quiz’s history. Jeremy Paxman, who had presented the show since 1994, hosted his final show in May this year.

The festive edition usually airs daily over the Christmas period, and last year ran from 19 to 30 Dec, with the University of Hull achieving victory in the final.

A BBC spokesman said: “We can confirm that an episode in the upcoming series of Alumni University Challenge will not be broadcast because two of the contestants felt their access requirements were not sufficiently met by the production.

“We are working closely with producers to improve cross-industry access on our programmes to ensure a consistent approach is implemented.

“We would like to apologise to the individuals and teams concerned, and they have been written to personally by the producers.”

A spokesman for Lifted Entertainment said: “During the pre-filming briefing for this episode, two contestants requested that certain adjustments be made in order for them to be able to fully participate.

“However, following the recording, we were made aware that the adjustments made fell short of their requirements. We have spoken to the individuals involved and offered our sincere apologies.

“Having listened very carefully to their descriptions of their experiences, we agreed with the BBC that the fairest course of action was not to screen this particular edition.”

Oxford and Cambridge Universities have been contacted for comment.