Exclusive – Mark Labbett talks The Chasers’ Road Trip, his friendship with Anne Hegerty and addresses dolphin controversy

The series featured a scene with Chaser Anne Hegarty swimming with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Centre in Florida, prompting some criticism from the RSPCA.

The Chasers' Road Trip: Trains, Brains and Automobiles

ITV’s The Chasers’ Road Trip follows three of the nation’s favourite quiz masterminds as they embark on an adventure across the globe to pit their intelligence against unlikely candidates: child geniuses, great apes, and the latest AI and robot technology.

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The three-part show follows the Chasers Anne Hegerty, Shaun Wallace and Mark Labbett as they travel across America and Japan to test their quizzing abilities and find out if they’re really as intelligent as they think they are.

Labbett makes the assertion very early on that he is indeed the most intelligent out of the brainbox trio – but that’s left for viewers to weigh up when the show concludes next week. Egos aside, the programme also gives fans a glimpse of Chasers’ softer sides, away from their fiery red podiums as they enjoy their bonding trip abroad.

Episode one of the show featured the stars uncovering the cognitive abilities of animals, with the trio visiting the Dolphin Research Center in Florida, and Anne getting into the water with the animals. This caused a backlash from animal welfare charities and criticism from some viewers.

But Labbett has since spoken out on the scene in an interview with RadioTimes.com, clarifying that the staff he met at the centre were “eminent in the fields of marine biology”.

“The general concept was, it’s a bit like the opposite of the idiot abroad, where the first we knew about it was when we turned up,” he told RadioTimes.com of the light-hearted series. “So we didn’t have an itinerary. It was just like, ‘OK, what are we doing today?’ kind of thing.”

Addressing the controversy around the visit to the Dolphin Research Center, he continued: “I’m not properly qualified to say [whether it was cruel or not] and the people we met all seemed to be very eminent in the fields of marine biology, and they seem to have a real passion for looking after their charges and certainly several dolphins there.

“They made a point of saying they were rescue dolphins from like oil spills, One had lost flipper due to a shark attack so they said they couldn’t survive out in the wild.”

ITV said in a statement: “There is no endorsement of mistreatment of animals in this programme. As the show makes clear to viewers, it sets out to challenge and enlighten our understanding of animal intelligence and does so in a way that prompts the Chasers to reflect on the ways animals are treated by humans within our cultures and ask whether this should change. The Dolphin Research Center where filming took place is a member of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, the international accrediting body for marine parks, aquariums, zoos and research facilities.”

Meanwhile, Labbett also spoke about his relationship with co-star Hegerty, revealing that fans might be surprised to see how protective he is over her.

“I’m very protective to Anne. She’s the godmother to my son so we get on really well,” he said. “And people don’t realise with autism, it’s not just a label. For example Anne’s definitely got a limit to how much time she can spend in the company of other people before she shuts down. She really needs her me time to be on her own, so I was really protective of her in that regard. She’s not being anti-social – there’s a limit she can spend with others until she needs to have a couple of hours to herself. And then she almost resets the clock and she can deal with it.”

The final episode of The Chasers’ Road Trip will feature the trio’s trip to Japan, where they confront the future of intelligence, from a self-solving puzzle cube and facial recognition technology, to cutting edge robots that are being used in a wide variety of industries.

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The Chasers’ Road Trip continues tonight at 9pm on ITV. Check out what else is on with our TV Guide.