“Contestants are experienced marksmen operating on a closed course. Do not attempt this at home.”
So, just in case you have access to all kinds of firearms and a few spare acres to set up a range, you might want to think twice before trying to reproduce the challenges you’ll find in History’s latest reality show Top Shot. It’s part Survivor and part Big Brother with the added dimension of marksmanship. And, honestly, it’s quite a bit more compelling than either of those shows.
Sixteen contestants were chosen by their marksmanship skills. Each of them has some claim to fame in the world of competitive shooting. They are split into two groups: the red team and the blue team. We’re assured that they have been grouped so that each team has relatively equal skills. Like Big Brother, they all will share a single house where cameras will follow their everyday activities. That includes such droll behavior as brushing their teeth and sleeping in their dormitory-style beds. Each morning they are introduced to the weapon or weapons that will be a part of their next competition. The weapons range from historic firearms to slingshots and knives. They are placed with an expert in that weapon and given time to learn and drill the skill sets that will be instrumental in the upcoming challenge. Finally they compete in some combination shooting and obstacle course event. The winning team is safe from elimination. The losing team will head to something called the Nomination Range, where they will vote for the person they wish to see gone by firing a handgun at their target. The two contestants receiving the most votes will then compete in a head-to-head match, with the loser going home. There is no secret ballot here. Everyone can see who each person votes for.
Obviously, there are the typical reality-show elements here. There’s going to be maneuvering for votes and alliances. A few of the contestants will get on each other’s nerves to such an extent that it’s a good thing they don’t let them take the guns into the house. A couple of the blow-ups are quite dramatic. You can expect the traditional betrayals and extremely annoying personalities. The only real edge that this show has over all of the others is the competitions themselves. There’s plenty of shooting here, and what a difference that makes.
The host of the series is a Survivor contestant himself. Colby Donaldson was on one of Survivor’s early seasons. He had since turned those 15 minutes of fame into guest spots on such televisions shows as Just Shoot Me, Reba, JAG, Las Vegas and Bones. I guess it makes him somewhat of a logical choice to host this reality show. It really doesn’t matter so much here. Colby doesn’t get near the face time that Jeff Probst gets on Survivor. He merely sets up the situations. Experts take over from there, and since more time is spent on actual competition here, he is pretty much the play-by-play man. He appears a bit stiff at times. I’m not sure if he’s not sure how much to interfere or if he’s uncomfortable around the guns. He never picks up a weapon to fire a single shot. He’s not as much into stirring the pot at the elimination votes, either. I guess it makes a difference when you’ve been on the other side of those gatherings. There are a few times he asks a probing question, but he almost always does so with reluctance. I’d like to have seen more enthusiasm from the guy. Perhaps he’ll grow into the role in the upcoming second season.
Perhaps the real star of this show is the high-speed photography. You really get to see the bullets as the impact on everything from exploding targets to glass jars filled with gumballs. This is the real reason why you might want to give this one a chance even if you generally dislike reality shows. Hey, I’m with you. I think reality shows are the last gasp of civilization. Unfortunately, my wife is a huge fan of Survivor. It’s her one and only “can’t miss” television series, so I’ve suffered through plenty of the episodes. I guess being a high school teacher for 7 years I’d had my fill of all of the melodramatics and the he said/she said nonsense. So you can imagine I was more than a little bit worried that I would suffer here as well. It wasn’t the case. And, it’s this wonderful shooting photography and shooting action that made all of the difference. The game dominates the series, not the schoolyard fighting. It’s there, to be sure. But with Top Shot you’re never very far away from breaking stuff up with some rounds of ammunition. If ever there was a guy’s reality show, this is it.
Each episode is presented in its original broadcast ratio of 1.78:1. Finally A&E and History got it right. This is an anamorphic release. I hope this is the start of a trend for the network’s releases. Detail is where it’s at here. That high-speed photography I was telling you about reveals some cool stuff, and the release is serviceable in image quality. Black levels are a little better than fair, but most of this stuff happens out in the bright sunshine. It’s a very documentary style, so don’t expect incredible camera work here. That also means you should expect some serious inconsistency in the image quality. Most of the discs have only three episodes, so the bit rate is pretty solid.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track delivers exactly what you are looking for and nothing more. The dialog is clear, and that’s all you’re going to get out of this minimalist presentation. There are some explosive sounds here, but they don’t really get as dynamic as all that in the sound department.
Contestant Bios: (24:42) Each of the contestants tells us about themselves and their shooting background.
Elimination Interviews: (24:37) As each contestant is eliminated, they usually give a short speech. Some of this is covered in each episode. This is the complete unedited version of each.
Bonus Footage: (57:26) There is about an hour of extra stuff that comes from all of the episodes.
This was a pretty nice show overall, but here’s the trouble. Once you know who wins each competition and the final $100,000 prize, it doesn’t make for a whole lot of repeated viewings. This one will sit on my shelf anyway, but I very much doubt I’ll ever look at them again. That’s your dilemma. This isn’t going to be a set you’re likely going to see at your rental store. I imagine you can put it on your Netflix list, but it’ll take longer to get all 4 discs. If you can find it at a good price, snatch it up. Just pay what you would for a single viewing. Shooters out there will absolutely want to check this show out. You can think about how many of these shots you could make. I did. Do I shoot guns, myself? I used to with my pop, so I wish he’d lived to see this kind of show. I think we’d have had a blast watching it together. I don’t get to the range much anymore. But I do still have more than a few guns, so “you don’t want to break into my house”.
History has also sent me an advanced screener for the season two premiere of Top Shot which will air on the network on Feb 8th. Check it out. There are more women in this season, and the weapons have been amped up. You’re going to see some Tommy Guns and large load weapons this season. They’re even going to shoot at each other. The action gets underway much faster in season two. I think it deserves a quick look.