University Challenge has sparked a furious online debate after a contestant brought along a blue octopus plush toy as their team’s mascot.
In the episode that aired on the BBC on Monday, host Amol Rajan welcomed two new teams of students but failed to mention Christ Church Oxford’s toy.
The blue octopus is synonymous with anti-Semitic symbolism used in Nazi propaganda in 1930s and ’40s.
Given the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict as well, other viewers claimed contestant Melika Gorgianeh was sporting colours that resembled the Palestinian flag.
However, others argued these instances were merely coincidences and the episode would’ve been recorded months prior to the Israel-Hamas conflict.
In one example of the outrage, one person posted a screenshot from the show and wrote on X: “University challenged? Perhaps the BBC can explain? If this is deliberate then what does everyone reckon to report a hate crime?”
University Challenge contestant Melika Gorgianeh’s outfit also sparked controversy
This led a second user to fume: “This is disgraceful from the BBC. How on earth was Melika Gorgianeh from @ChCh_Oxford allowed to have a blue octopus, a well-known antisemitic trope, on display as a mascot on University Challenge?”
Elsewhere a third echoed: “Looks innocent enough…until you realise that Gorgianeh is dressed in Palestinian colours while openly displaying an anti-Semitic image in the octopus.”
While a fourth went one step further: “I’ve made a formal complaint to BBC regarding this clear antisemitic symbolism and it’s really easy, all online and took about 5 mins. @ofcom won’t consider complaints unless you have already complained directly to BBC. I’ll keep you updated.#UniversityChallenge.”
There have been stern defences of the University Challenge contestant, however, with one X user arguing: “Solidarity with Melika Gorgianeh who is currently facing a sickeningly disingenuous and blatantly Islamophobic harassment campaign from some of the stupidest, cruellest and most self-centred people in Britain #universitychallenge.”
While another hit back: “Yes – the octopus HAS been used as an anti-Semitic trope, but that doesn’t mean ALL octopi are antisemitic tropes.” (sic)
The BBC has since issued a public response to the claims regarding the episode.
A spokesperson said: “We are aware of a number of inaccurate claims being made online in relation to last night’s episode of University Challenge and we utterly condemn the abuse that has been posted and shared.
“For the avoidance of doubt, this episode was filmed in March. The mascot is one of many chosen by the team during the course of the series and is one of their favourite animals.
Amol Rajan took over from Jeremy Paxman as University Challenge host
“The jacket worn by one of the contestants was navy blue, orange, pink and green, bought from a High Street retailer.
“It has no connection to any flag,” the statement signed off.