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Starring Colby Donaldson
Produced by Pilgrim Films & Television for History Channel

How do you screw up a show about guns, bullets and expert marksmen? I would have thought the answer would be, “you can’t”. I mean how could a show that promises to bring sixteen world class marksmen together and have them compete against each other with rifles, crossbows, slings, throwing knives and who knows what else, recreating history making shots, possibly suck. Two words: reality, television

The Show

I should be specific. When I say, reality television, I mean the, drop a bunch of strangers on an island, house,  teapot  divide them up and make them compete for scarce resources with competitions that encourage backstabbing, conniving, disloyalty and other base human failings that are only appropriate in the Senate, communist dictatorships and reality television.  Not that it can’t be entertaining, but for better or worse Top Shot falls right into this definition.

The series hosted by Colby Donaldson, made famous on another reality television show, consists of ten episodes. Each week two teams compete against each other in a contest involving either historic weapons or some historic scenario.  For example, the first competition involved several historic rifles and a silly obstacle course. The losing team must pick two members for a shoot off. The loser of this duel must leave the show. The prize, $100,000 goes to the last man or woman standing, which seems a bit of a weird setup if you want to find the true top marksman. Silly me, It took me a few minutes to realize this doesn’t have anything to do with picking the top marksman; it’s about anointing whoever can best play the game. I took some solace in the fact that at least it does come down to two shooters taking their best shot in the end and in the first episode this is exactly what happens.

I hate to form opinions about people from watching forty five minutes of heavily edited video, actually I don’t mind forming the opinions it’s the sharing of those opinions that can get you in trouble, but taking the risk of making a you know what of both of us I’m going to make some assumptions and talk about the contestants. I can’t avoid it really, this is a reality television show which means it’s not about shooting, it’s about people. As the show starts we get introduced to the contestants. They seem like a likeable bunch. They are from military, law enforcement and enthusiast backgrounds the age ranges are from twenty two to forty eight, the one thing they all have in common is competition. They all are strong competitors in some form of shooting sports. Several of them have national reputations.

Before the first challenge the teams seemed to come together and were actually working as a team. There wasn’t any squabbling about who was going to lead or people complaining about somebody just taking charge. Although it seemed like I was spending more time listening to people talk rather than watching them shoot the show was starting to grow on me, then came the challenge. The challenge was setup as a relay. Two members of each team would cross some obstacle like crawling under barbwire, pulling themselves across a gap with a rope. The obstacles just seemed silly and arbitrary, but then it was on to the shooting. One team member would act as spotter and the other would fire the rifle. When they hit their target the next two team members would take off. The losing team would have to pick two members to compete against each other head to head. One would continue the other would go home.  The challenge was entertaining even with the unnecessary obstacles. Watching targets blow up is always fun. After the team challenge plenty of camera time was spent on the losing team, capturing all of the excuses, maneuvering, and politicking going on as each member tried to maximize their chances of not being picked. This kind of baffled me. I thought they were here to prove that they were the best, what better way to do that than to take the other contestants on head to head.  It was mostly pathetic. When it came time to vote for the two members who would have to compete against each other the team members were escorted to a range with each team members name on a target. Yes, they would vote by shooting someone’s target. There was no real surprise who the team picked. After the lost challenge one pick was obvious. The other member picked was despite all of their explanations to the contrary, the guy who everybody feared the most. The rationalizing was pathetic; just admit you want your team member gone because you feel they would be strong competition down the line. The crowning bit of double speak from the contestants came after the remaining team members returned back to the house. The shooter who got sent home left a shirt behind. One of the competitors hung it from the banister and proclaimed that it was a memorial to their departed team mate. Give me a break, first he’s not dead, he’s just off the show, second it’s not a memorial it’s a trophy, just own up to it.

Like I said at the beginning it’s reality television. It’s not about guns or shooting those are just mcguffins. It’s about manufactured drama. If you dig reality television you might want to give this a shot(sorry). If you’re interested in a show about shooting and shooters you will be disappointed.