There was a lot happening both on and off the range in this week's episode. The contestants stepped away from guns to try their hand at crossbows and blue team looked like they were going to take a step away from being petty to actually work as a team, only to trick everyone, including themselves.
There is a fair amount to talk about with this episode, but I just want to start with a question.
Is anyone else really starting to dig this season?
Perhaps it's because I'm blogging this season, or perhaps it's because I've been able to interact with some of the contestants thanks to Twitter, but as the season wears on, I just find a bigger grin on my face with each passing episode. Who would have thought there would be more to stay tuned in for after we were treated to grenade launchers in the second episode? But this season continues to impress with compelling contestants, thrilling challenges, and exciting weapons.
Anyway onto the episode.
I have to say I was glad to see the BowTech StrykeZone 350 crossbow in this episode. Now, I'll never tire of guns, exploding targets, or contestants with ridiculous looking earguards (seriously though, safety first) but the thing I like about Top Shot is that it has always been about more than being able to shoot a gun. I like when they bring in the primitive weapons, but I love when they bring in modern day versions of ancient weapons. If History Channel was once the channel where "History comes alive" (that was there slogan once, right?) it is certainly demonstrated when Top Shot brings in these modern day incarnations.
I was surprised to see that the contestants practiced on a stationary target and were then put into a challenge with a rotating one. Usually the contestants practice with a simple moving target to get the feel for how to shoot the weapon at a moving target, and are then faced with more complex moving target in the actual challenge. However there were a lot of comparisons being made between shooting a rifle and shooting the crossbow, so if there was an understanding that the contestants had basic rifle skills, this may explain the reason behind this decision.
The challenges this season continue to impress with their complex staging that continues to emphasize the importance of team strategy as well as team shooting. This challenge posed the question of whether to send your better shooters out early and get out to an early lead, or save them for when they had an opportunity to score more points.
The initial 3-0 lead blue team took had me questioning red teams strategy, but while blue team kept repeating the mantra "slow is smooth, smooth is fast" red team seemed to be the ones taking it to heart. Red team is continuing to perhaps be one of the most cohesive teams in Top Shot history, without being obnoxious about it.
The elimination challenge looked surprisingly difficult. Now, I'm not saying other elimination challenges are easy, but I think I would have gotten incredibly frustrated trying to nail that tiny balloon at the top of the pendulum. The nice thing about this challenge is it continued to demonstrate the importance of consistency in these challenges. Anyone can get a lucky run going, but if a shooter perseveres and finds a pace that works for them, they can always catch up and make things interesting.
I would take this opportunity to harp on Littlejohn for his inability to hit his final target and allow Gallagher to catch up with him, but that was a visibly difficult shot to make. We know that elimination challenges are filmed over the course of the day with practice in the morning and the challenge in the afternoon. In this episode it was clear to see the sun was setting and the shadows at the top of the wall were obscuring that final balloon for Littlejohn. That's already a difficult shot to make with the low clearance and small target size, and the poor lighting only added to the difficulty.
The design of these challenges and the contestants skill level have kept these challenges close and exciting to watch this season.
I want to talk in broader terms for minute before getting into specific contestants. As I wrote above, red team is cruising this season, they have three out of four wins and are only down one team member. They have a group with diverse backgrounds, and their overall teamwork is astounding.
However, contrast this with blue team. A team that has become sorely divided. I wanted to dig into blue team a little here, but the more I thought about the more sympathetic I became. The audience gets a week digest everything that has happened between episodes. It is easy to think that these guys should be able to turn themselves around the next time we tune into the show. But that isn't how it really works is it? These guys are on a tight schedule, which doesn't allow them a lot of time to work on team building. Last season we saw a completely different blue team, one that won the first challenge and wanted to keep winning. They did those crazy practices in the backyard of the house, which were laughable, but even the members of the team who thought they were silly, admitted they were good for building team unity. And they were right.
This season of Top Shot has shown just how critical focus is to this game, and just how a far a team can fall when they don't have it. Going back to my initial point I can only imagine how hard it is for a team to try and wash their hands of the bad feelings left over from a loss and try and turn their attitudes around in just three days (or less). Vaughan can give all the speeches he wants (and props to him for doing what needed to be done) and his team can nod along and agree with him as much as they want, but if they don't actually commit to what he's trying to preach, they are going to continue to struggle in this competition.
Now for this week's Top and Not-so-Top Shots.
Gregory Littlejohn, Mr. Friendship bracelet himself. The thing about Littlejohn is, I'm starting to come around to him. Not in a, "This guy is pretty cool" way, but more in a "I'm am completely fascinated by this guy" way. Littlejohn is, for better or worse, becoming this season's standout character. Season 2 had the irritable coaching of Jay Lim, which quickly faded when he had no one else to coach. Season 3 had the irritable coaching and mind games of Jake Zweig. Littlejohn is neither of these things. He isn't someone who is trying to dominate the way his team is run, and he isn't someone who is sullying the unspoken honor of this competition through manipulation (unless he is, in which case, he's a genius). He's simply a guy who likes to have his friends around him. I have a theory that every reality show has a character that is representative of the kid no one wanted to play with during grade school. On Jersey Shore, it's The Situation. On Deadliest Catch, it's Captain Keith. I think Littlejohn is Top Shot's version of this character. These people suddenly find themselves forced into social situations, and it overwhelms them. It can go two ways, the person pushes the people they are surrounded by away (The Situation) or they bring them uncomfortably close (Littlejohn). Colby has tweeted his own confusion as to Littlejohn's ability to put this tremendous amount of weight on relationships with people he has know for less than two weeks. It was also evident by Colby's dazed expression over what has become know as the "friendship bracelet ceremony". He just couldn't seem to understand how Littlejohn and Gallagher had become so close, and Gallagher seemed to be right there with Colby.
Back tracking a little, Littlejohn is also have a clear problem with nerves in this competition, and his inability to knock an arrow allowed the red team to regain their composure and lead themselves to a win. From the preview of next week's episode, this doesn't look like a problem that is going away anytime soon, but Littlejohn might.
Oh, and how about his closing comment about how that blue team better realize that they shouldn't send him to elimination if they don't want to send someone else home? HELLO? LITTLEJOHN? If your team is headed to elimination, someone is going home regardless if they nominate you or not. C'mon man.
I'm also going to throw up Gun Fauxeri for again saying he wanted to be in the elimination challenge. No you don't.
Augie Malekovich finally started to speak up in this episode. I was beginning to forget this guy was here. He gets marks for expressing the confusion I think most of us were feeling during the bracelet ceremony. He also had the line of the night with his "31 year-old man giving a 36 year-old man a friendship bracelet" outrage.
Also speaking up this episode, Iggy Keyes and Gary Shank. Keyes is starting to finally look more comfortable in front of the camera, while Shank, like Augie, was a guy I had all but forgotten about. I hope we continue to see a little more from all three of these guys as the season continues.
That's it for this analysis. Let me know your thoughts on friendship bracelets and the like in the comments.
Come back tomorrow for the Friday Surprise addressing a question Colby raised on Twitter during this weeks episode.
Follow me on Twitter @cswiets