“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 for 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.
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.
There are two ladies on the show this year and a golf pro who claims he’d just bought his first firearm only a year earlier. Mostly the field is made up of military guys, and they have a tendency to stick together. The rules remain the same, and you can expect pretty much the same kinds of competitions and weapons. While the show mostly sticks to firearms, you’ll see a compound bow, blow gun, and tomahawks used this season as well.
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.
Behind The Bullet: (40:16) This is primarily a recap of the season with some extra footage.
Extended Team Selection: (4:39)
Anatomy Of A Shot: (43:42) This feature looks at all of the various competitions and provides more contestant interview footage with the focus on making the shot. It’s out of order and a bit anti-climactic when some challenges are explored after the final showdown.
Weapons Rundown: (31:55) Closer look at the weapons from this year.
The Top Shot Experience: (4:44) The shooters talk about what it was like being on the show.
This is still a pretty nice show overall, but again, 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. Still, it beats the likes of Survivor because you get to see stuff explode and get shattered into pieces. So, I’d say there’s more room for repeated viewings than your typical reality show. There’s still a ton of the getting on each other’s nerves drama but did I mention stuff gets “blowed” up? “God didn’t create all men equal. Smith and Wesson did. That’s what it’s all about, shooting. Can you hit your target?”