Friday, May 31, 2013

Top Shot Analysis: S5 E1 "Best of the Best"

Did anyone watch Arrested Development last weekend? I would guess the audience overlap is probably pretty slim, but I felt some similar feelings watching that as I did watching the season premiere of Top Shot. The longer something goes away the higher the expectations are, and in some cases those expectations simply cannot be met.

I was very excited for the start of this season. While I thought it was maybe a little too early for an All Star season of the show, if that's what it needed to do to survive, I was happy to watch. But with the new rules, the show has sloughed off some of the pieces that made it so great.

I'm getting back in the grove of things, and usually I like to take this spot to discuss team strategy, but since there are no more teams and because there was a lot going on in the first episode of the season, I'm going to take it bit by bit and give a few thoughts about the show's new format. Starting from the top then:

No Teams
While it makes sense on paper, it's hard to justify this in practice. Sure, no one wants to go back to relying on teammates to deliver in this kind of competition, but the team aspect is part of what makes the show interesting. It's like the producers are forgetting they are making a television show. A show needs a story, and a story needs conflict. They're trying so hard to cut down on the drama, and I think ultimately it's going to backfire in these early episodes. Putting two teams under one roof is something no other reality competition show does. It doesn't need to be the main focus of the show, and it never has been, but those little bits of drama made the show be more than just shooting. Now it's as though I'm watching an Olympic shooting match, and I don't mean that in a good way.

The Boat
I'm a little confused why the winner gets a boat. I've always wanted to see a challenge on the water, but I don't know how much duck hunting these guys are doing. Why wouldn't you give them a gun and year's worth of ammo or something? It's a cool boat, don't get me wrong, I'm just struggling to see why that's more incentive than prize money or say a shooting contract?

The First Challenge
I enjoyed the bits and pieces from previous seasons cobbled together, but it did make it feel a bit like a clip show. Part of the reason I love this show is seeing the inventive ways shooters are tested with different kinds of weapons. This could very quickly feel repetitive, and repetition is boring.

The other issue with not having teams is it is going to make these early challenges incredibly drawn out. I mean, compare this opening challenge to last season's where contestants went head to head doing rapid fire shooting at a line of targets. It was exhilarating to watch. This challenge it seemed like we were lucky to see someone shoot all three targets without it being edited down. If the producers don't seem to care about the challenge why should we?

The Champions
Not entirely sure what purpose those guys served by being there. It was almost entirely fan service. I mean they didn't even practice with the contestants. All they provided was some additional commentary. And was I the only one who felt that Iain Harrison kind of got the shaft in that regard? Chris Reed, Chris Cheng and Dustin Ellermann all seemed to get way more screen time.

The Proving Ground
This is another area that I hope sees some improvement in the weeks to come. I like the idea of one shot, all in all done, but man that was the antithesis of suspense. Too many people, too little action, too simple a task. Without voting there's no element of surprise to be had in these proceedings. Whether or not someone hits the bulls eye just doesn't have the same viewing intensity as seeing whether or not someone turns on their teammate.

The great thing about the nomination range was that it was almost always obvious who one of the contestants going to elimination would be. The thrill came with seeing who that second person was going to end up being. But again, that's all gone now.

The Elimination Challenge
This is where the excitement of the show is going to live. The group challenges in these early episodes are going to feel like waiting in line at the amusement park and the elimination challenge is going to be the ride at the end. The fatal flaw with eliminating teams is that you need to show 16 (now 15) shooters each making a run at the challenge into the first 20 minutes or so of the program. That's with gratuitous slow motion shots and contestant cutaway commentary. There's just no good way to pace that out no matter how you edit it (at least from what I've seen so far, and yes I am aware these are some very early judgements).

What do you think? Are you all for the less drama more skill? Or would you rather have a few more people butting heads? Leave your thoughts on the start of Season 5 in the comments below.


  1. I'm all for the less drama, more skill, at least for this season. Drama is a good way to get to know competitors, to get you to root for or against them, but that's not really necessary in an All-Star season. I see your points, but I didn't find it boring, mostly because they really kicked up the difficulty of the challenges. The proving ground is a nice idea that needs work, though. It was kind of boring just seeing them sit there and shoot, especially because Greg's shot was so bad, you knew no one was going to be worse than that.

  2. I agree with thebobmaster. I think the demographic who watches this show, or History Channel-anything for that matter, will appreciate the renewed emphasis on highlighting the skills of the contestants as opposed to the stories generated...but you're right about the potential backfire that might happen, only time will tell.
    On a side note, thank you so much for keeping up with Top Shot. Your blog is my go-to for new episodes and keen analysis. Keep up the good work!!

  3. I loved the new format, I hated season 3 for going all "big brother" on us with Jake Zweig and all the drama. From my point of view, this does not belong in a shooting challenge show. There is enough reality TV going on elsewhere if I want that. I am all for more skill, less drama

  4. I'm liking the more skill, less drama approach. It's really nice to see a TV show *not* catering to the Idiocracy / lowest common denominator audience.

  5. "Putting two teams under one roof is something no other reality competition show does"

    The Ultimate Fighter, anyone?

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