University Challenge: Christmas episode axed after ableism complaints

An episode of Christmas University Challenge has been pulled after two contestants complained about a lack of provision for their disabilities.

One of the contestants, who is blind, called the experience “distressing”.

Audio description, which they said had been promised, was not provided, while a request for subtitles for another contestant, who is neurodivergent, is understood to have been turned down.

The show’s production company Lifted Entertainment, which is part of ITV Studios, also offered its “sincere apologies”.

Christmas University Challenge, a festive spin-off from the BBC Two quiz show, features teams of distinguished alumni who compete on behalf of their former universities.

BBC News understands that the two contestants flagged disabilities to the producers before the recording.

It is understood that the production team said subtitles were not possible but that audio description would be provided. However, in the event, audio description did not happen.


One of the affected contestants said: “One minute before the show, we were told there was no audio description and that your captain will instead have to explain everything.”

The contestant said the visual images, which needed describing, included a pie chart and maps. “It was distressing,” they added.

The other contestant, who is neurodivergent and has challenges with audio processing, said they had requested subtitles in advance, so they wouldn’t be at a disadvantage when trying to answer questions at speed.

“Unfortunately, I was told this wasn’t possible,” they said.

They also asked for some other accommodations to help manage their sensory needs but say these weren’t fully provided.

They still agreed to participate, but said, due to lack of accommodations and last minute changes, the experience was “overwhelming and overstimulating”, and that it impacted their ability to function for a week afterwards.

After the show was recorded, the two contestants – who have asked not to be named – complained to the BBC and asked for the episode not to be broadcast.

“I was in touch to say I’d prefer not to have the manifestation of my disability broadcast on network TV in the run-up to Christmas,” the first contestant said.

On Friday, the decision was made to pull the episode.

Both contestants said the decision not to air it was greatly appreciated, and that they had offered to help make the programme more inclusive.

University Challenge host Amol Rajan
Image caption,

Amol Rajan took over University Challenge hosting duties from Jeremy Paxman earlier this year

A BBC spokesperson 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.”

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.”

Fourteen teams are competing in seven first-round matches of Christmas University Challenge. The four top teams go through to the semi-finals, before the last two battle it out to be named Christmas series champions.

The contestants compete in the same format as the parent show, with teams pitted against each other as they take on a series of questions.

In the episode in question, which was filmed in November, two Oxford and Cambridge colleges were pitted against each other.

The rest of the festive series is not affected by the decision to pull the episode. The show is presented .

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