Monday, February 20, 2012

Top Shot Analysis: S4 E1 "Sweating Bullets"

I already gave my recap of the first episode of Season 4 which can be viewed below. In the Analysis of the episode, I'll break down two things: How successful the challenges were at providing entertainment and tension, and the contestants and their motivations.

The Challenges
The first episode of season four started out more or less how we might have expected it to. There were not any guns that were terribly exciting, there were too many cast members in the competition to really get a feel for their personalities, and Colby was still Colby in all of his glory.

Let's look at the challenges first.

The opening target test to play your way into the competition was a fun diversion from the norm. Being in Season 4 and not Season 20, Top Shot still has some room to play around to find out what works and what doesn't without seeming gimmicky.

While I enjoyed the ranking system that was then divided by even and odds, I am still torn about sending two contestants home right off the bat. On the one hand it is a way to keep the game interesting, and weed out the weak links early. These early challenges on Top Shot work on the basic skill level of the contestants, testing their ability to perform with a basic weapon in a straightforward challenge. Shooting a rifle at a target X amount of yards away is about as basic as it gets in Top Shot. Forrest and Buckland proved not only could they not perform with the M14 but also that they could not withstand the pressure of the competition.

However,  I was kind of hoping to see the contestant field expanded this season. One, it would probably give us more episodes of Top Shot, and who doesn't want that. More so though, I would be interested to see what happens when they add a few more bodies to that house, I bet tensions would rise a little more quickly and personalities would clash a bit sooner.

As I mentioned in my recap, I liked the fluidity of this opening challenge as well. With Season 2, we didn't know who we're going to be the captains, but once we did the teams formed quickly. In Season 3 we saw the teams unfold in each head to head matchup. But here we saw the teams continue to change based on the performance of each contestant.

(Sidenote: does anyone else think its a little silly for the first two guys to go through and shake very ones hand after losing? I'm all about good sportsmanship, but there certainly seems something hollow about doing this after only knowing each other for one challenge. Not to mention the fact they don't have the camaraderie that comes from doing the team challenges.)

The team challenge was maybe the most frustrating challenge to ever appear on the show. There have often been challenges where a single contestant chokes and simply cannot make the shot. However, I don't think that there has ever been a challenge that has been so difficult for every contestant.

This may have been the first challenge where contestants were forced to make a perfect run on multiple shots to complete the challenge. In the past, the challenge has been that contestants have a clip only loaded with enough bullets to make a perfect run before they are forced to reload by hand, but never where they had to make a perfect run or the targets would be reset.

This being Top Shot, if we start the competition with rifle shooting, we move on to pistol shooting. Again I think this is smart in terms of keeping the competition interesting and fair.

The progressively smaller targets also forced the teams to strategize immediately and pick out each others strengths and weaknesses based solely on their reputations as shooters. To me this is the most interesting aspect of the early episodes because the contestants make assumptions about each other that often turn out to be wrong. Usually this involves the amateur contestants being sent to elimination challenges simply for their amateur status and forced to prove themselves to their teammates.

For the most part, I think the teams are pretty fairly matched, this challenge was by no means a blowout, but I'll be interested to see how the teams fare when the challenges get more physically demanding, like in next weeks obstacle course.

The elimination challenge took an interesting turn that followed in Season 3's footsteps. I was surprised last season when the first elimination challenged involved shooting from a moving stagecoach. Season 2 waited until the contestants made it to the green jersey phase before allowing them to shoot from the back of a Humvee. And here I was surprised again when the contestants were asked to shoot from a sidecar of a WWII motorcycle.

I enjoyed Colby's explanation of the challenge, stating that in the elimination challenge at least, they try and recreate the conditions under which the the weapon was being used. While an old dirt road on a cattle ranch is not the same as the narrow roads of Europe, the terrain could not have made the shooting easy.

It also shows the skill of the contestants that they were so evenly matched, with Littlejohn only winning because he used fewer bullets. This is a fair way to play, but man I wish Melloni had sent him home.

Overall I would say this first episode brought basic yet fun challenges that brought together everything I love about Top Shot, lots of shooting, lots of slo-mo, exploding targets, and a whole lot of Colby.

The Contestants
Now it would be unreasonable to go through each contestant this early in the competition, besides I already did an initial breakdown before episode one premiered. So instead I'll just go through some observations from the first episode.

There are several contestants who didn't make the best first impression with me. Number one being William Bethards, who didn't get a lot of screen time, but what time he did get was spent mugging and trying to come up with catch phrases.

Next up we got Kyle Sumpter, who for some reason dominated the first half of the program with his one on one interviews. The guy is trying to be the Quesenberry of this season, but his energy is off-putting.

As I couldn't hold back from mentioning in the recap, I also am not a fan of Gun Fauxeri (Dylan Fletcher). You never want to be in an elimination. Period. You can ooh and aah at the challenge all you want, but you never outright say you would rather have the potential of going home than staying in the competition.

Finally, on my not-so-top-shot list is Gregory Littlejohn, who took his camera time to inform the audience that his name was ironic because he's a big guy. But I can forgive him for that, we've heard a lot worse come out of some the contestants mouths. No, what I didn't like was how he got progressively...let's say nastier, as the episode went on. He started out fairly likable but got too defensive when he was on the chopping block and was too quick to pounce on Frank Melloni. Credit where credit is due, he did nominate himself due to his poor performance, and he said he would go in and shoot his way out, which he did.
But he's got some work to do to win me back.

As for those I liked, well, it was a tough episode to gauge the rest of the contestants because the ones I mentioned were most prominently featured. However, I will go ahead and pick out two.

First, for general likability, let's go with Brit Terry Vaughan, who seemed easy going, intrigued, and ready to play the game. I'll leave it at that.

Second, let's take a closer look at female contestant Michelle Viscusi. She's the youngest contestant now that Forrest is out, but she may have pulled off the smartest move in Top Shot with nobody noticing. At the nomination range Littlejohn was already pretty clearly in the challenge, but Melloni only had one vote. The women on Top Shot on almost automatically in danger of being nominated in the early episodes simply based on their gender, which is unfortunate, but the way the game works. I think Viscusi recognized this and decided instead of wasting her vote by putting another bullet in Littlejohn's target, she'd make sure she was protected in case anyone of her teammates was feeling particularly sexist. It was a smart move and as I said, rather unannounced. I'm excited to see what she brings in the weeks ahead.

That's a wrap on episode one, I'll try and get a quick History Lesson post up about last weeks guns sometime tomorrow. Remember new episode at 10/9 central and repeated immediately afterwards.

Follow the man himself @Colby_Donaldson, and myself @cswiets.

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