Top Shot TV Review

At some point you are probably pushing the boundaries of niche television, even in the reality competition genre, and History‘s Top Shot might be edging right up to the line. Premiering tonight at 10:00pm, this reality series, with customary $100,000 top prize, challenges contestants to prove they are the best marksman.

Through a variety of challenges, which at least have sense enough to pretend at being more interesting than standing at a shooting range, the contestants will be weeded out until only one remains.

I predict two reactions – those who think this sounds interesting, and those who think this sounds like there is a new top dog in the most boring idea to ever actually make it to air. I’m not sure this is a niche that lends itself to a lot of middle ground.

Well… not so fast.

While the general idea of the show might not have you rushing to your set, you might ask yourself if expert cookery or high fashion (or for that matter, a nonsensical ability to not get voted against amid tropical climes) is actually all that interesting. These, and many others, are at least not particularly entertaining on their face.

It’s the particulars that make the show, and the people, and Top Shot has some good points to put forward in both cases.

Hosted by actor, adventurer and athlete Colby Donaldson, a born competitor whose experience as a contestant on Survivor brings a unique perspective to HISTORY’s first elimination series, Top Shot brings you sixteen of the nation’s most skilled marksmen.

They have been carefully selected to compete in the new 10-episode series. Some have professional shooting experience, some are amateurs –all will showcase breathtaking timing, speed and accuracy in their quest to win the $100,000 prize package and title of “Top Shot.” The winner will ultimately have to be skilled in everything from muzzle-loading muskets and modern pistols to slingshots and throwing knives.

The show also puts together some interesting challenges. These competitions are team against team, and the losing team votes for two of its members who will face an elimination challenge. It’s a format I like, just for the obvious reason. Who the team votes for might not have a lot of real merit in terms of skill, and as the first episode will point out, it might not even be possible for the vote to be a direct result of skill assessment. By the way, the first episode came very close to irritating me right out of my ability to keep watching future episodes. I’ll let you figure that one out.

Generally speaking though, whatever reasons the team might have for voting for you to face elimination, you get a chance to prove yourself. As we all probably know, the more episodes we get under our belts, the more varied the reasoning behind the voting may become. We’re looking for the best marksman, and no one is going home purely on the fact that personalities clash.

Before you get to the pretty interesting, I think, people who show up for such a competition, there’s also the aspect of the show that gets it on History in the first place. We’re looking for the best overall marksman (and we’re looking to tie in history), so being a world-class shot with a pistol isn’t going to bring this home for you. The contestants will be using rifles from WWII, muskets, bows, slingshots, and who knows what else. Hitting a target at 600 yards with a sniper rifle is pretty cool, but can you translate that skill into throwing a knife?

It’s a surprisingly fun show, and watching the teams figure out how to face the challenges is far more interesting than you’d guess. It’s also rather interesting to get a feel for these weapons, and how they are actually used. Plus, getting a glimpse at how difficult these things are to do adds quite a bit to the show. When these people miss a few times (or a lot), you get a bit of perspective. Then again, watching the rest of the participants watch someone miss a lot is rather entertaining as well.

I could watch yet another group of people whip up something magical that I’ll never cook anyway (and I will, but that’s me), but there’s something appealing about a fight that has some fight to it. And really, don’t you want to find out what you can really do with a slingshot?

The competition is put together in a very entertaining way, and I mean that it limits the irritation factor of drama getting in the way. And so far, Colby is a solid host. This is a really fun show, that limits the need for “guilt appeal,” and it looks as though things are only going to get progressively better as we move to more interesting weapons, and trickier challenges.

Let’s meet the contestants.

Adam Benson

Age 44

Baltimore, MD

Construction Project Manager

He calls himself the “The Last Great American Hero” – just an everyday family man who happens to have exceptional shooting skills. A former Marine rifle expert nicknamed “Bam-Bam,” Adam is currently an IPSC Master Class shooter competing in both pistol and three-gun events.

An accomplished hunter with archery and muzzleloader, Adam has also designed and built catapults for pumpkin throwing competitions.

Andre Robinson

Age 28

Pittsburgh, PA

Soldier, U.S. Army

Andre trained with the Marines, earning “Rifle Expert” status in four competitions before joining the Army, where he earned the same status two more times. His skills were also honed during deployment.

He is currently stationed in South Korea and traveled around the world to compete in TOP SHOT. The bodybuilder and family man joined TOP SHOT to show his young children that anything is possible with commitment.

Bill Carns

Age 40

Pahrump, Nevada

Radio Gun Show Host

Nationally syndicated host of 2A Radio, Bill is a former police officer, business owner, efficiency expert and has run a multi-million dollar corporation.

Since the late 1990s Bill’s concentration in the firearms industry has culminated in leading him to become one of the most highly respected defensive firearms trainers today.

Bill is a qualified 5-Weapons Range Master and continues to teach today.

Blake Miguez

Age 28

New Iberia, LA

Semi-Professional Shooter

Known in the shooting community for his speed, Blake began competing in the USPSA at age 12 and reached Grand Master rank by 17. He has been Louisiana state champion and a top 16 finisher in the U.S. Nationals for the past 10 years.

Blake has trained U.S. Anti-Terrorism Special Forces in firearms use and currently ranks 2nd in the world for action pistol shooting. He is also an attorney and executive of an offshore marine transportation company and a bulk fuel/oil distributorship.

Brad Engmann

Age 26

San Francisco, CA

I.T. Project Manager

Brad is a project manager for a financial data firm. This Bay Area businessman might not fit people’s perception of a competitive shooter, but he prefers it that way. In fact, he’s been known to throw people off by competing, and winning, in a suit and tie.

He is currently a USPSA Grand Master and finished 23rd last year in his first Production Division Nationals. Additionally, he holds a Master class certification in IDPA and recently took 2nd in the California state championship.

Caleb Giddings

Age 27

Fishers, IN

Insurance Sales

Caleb is known in the shooting community as “The Little Giant” because, even though he stands at 5’6” and 145 pounds, he out-shoots guys that are bigger and faster.

He started shooting at age eight and his Coast Guard Academy training and classes at Gunsite and Blackwater USA helped him amass trophies at the Indiana State Steel Challenge, the Ray Chapman Speed Event, and the Indiana State IDPA tournament.

Also a writer, Caleb runs a shooting sports website to help introduce people to competition shooting.

Chris Cerino

Age 40

Wadsworth, OH

Law Enforcement Trainer

A self-described “can do person,” Chris sets out to master any weapon he can get his hands on. With 18 years in law enforcement, Chris is a full-time military and police firearms instructor with a background in tactical operations.

Although he doesn’t compete formally, Chris took 2nd place in the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association in Chicago. He is also experienced with compound bows, crossbows, and slingshots.

Denny Chapman

Age 41

Ocala, FL

Wild West Performer

Denny is a real-life cowboy living and working in Florida’s horse country. A Level 5 competitor in the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association, he’s a professional horse trainer and clinician for the sport of mounted shooting and performs in his own Wild West specialty shows for rodeos and special events around the country.

He has won national and state championship titles in SASS mounted shooting and has competed in numerous other shooting disciplines, such as Benchrest, IDPA and USPSA.

Frank Campana

Age 47

Yonkers, NY

Retired Police Officer

A retired Yonkers police, SWAT and narcotics officer, Frank is an FBI-certified sniper and instructor who attended more than 20 firearms schools and has trained with all branches of the military, including the British SAS and the Israel Special Forces.

He also competes with bow and arrow and learned to hunt with spears living with a tribe in the Zimbabwe bush. Frank’s life passion is studying the various wildlife and cultures of Africa.

Iain Harrison

Age 42

Sherwood, OR

Construction Manager

This British-born marksman moved to the U.S. in part to pursue his love of shooting. He served as a re-con platoon commander in the British Army and has shot everything from service small arms to 120mm anti-tank missiles and 30mm cannons.

Iain is an amateur gunsmith, and even machines his own steel and aluminum on a milling machine and lathe. He placed 2nd in Trooper Class in the 2009 MGM Ironman multi-gun competition, using firearms he made himself.

James Sinclair

Age 48

Dover, NH

Historical Firearms Collector

A self-taught shooter, Jim has been passionate about historical firearms since he was five years old. Primarily a high power rifle shooter, he attends the National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio, where he won the 1903 Springfield Match (2007), and tied for 1st in the John Garand Match (1999).

A printer and part-time truck driver, Jim enjoys refurbishing old military weapons and creating custom gun stocks.

Kelly Bachand

Age 22
Kent, WA

Kelly is a rising star in the long-range shooting world. He is a college student who began shooting long range competitions only four years ago.

Kelly made the Under 21 USA National Rifle Team in 2006. By 2009 he won gold, made the USA National Rifle Team, and became the youngest person and first American to win the Canadian Target Rifle Championship.

Mike Seeklander

Age 38

Owasso, OK

U.S. Shooting Academy

A semi-professional shooter, Mike has spent decades training for an all-around competition like this. Mike is the COO and a Senior Instructor at the United States Shooting Academy. He served as a former Marine, U.S. Federal Air Marshal and firearm instructor for the Federal Air Marshal training division, police officer, and finally a senior instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

The semi-pro shooter has competed extensively on the practical handgun shooting circuit, and has also shot competitively with small bore and high powered rifles, as well as compound bows.

Peter Palma

Age 29

Norristown, PA

Plumber & Marine Sniper

A plumber by trade, Peter graduated 2nd in his class at the Marine Corps Sniper School. Peter collects historic and practical weapons of all kinds and loves to make potato guns out of PVC pipe. In his free time, he also serves as mascot of a roller derby team.

Simon “J.J.” Racaza

Age 29

New Milford, NJ

Fiercely competitive, J.J. hates to lose. This world-record holder in the Steel Challenge is consistently ranked in the USPSA top 5.

A Department of Homeland Security agent, J.J. is a double grandmaster in the USPSA/IPSC, winning the World Speed Shooting title in both the open and limited divisions.

Tara Poremba

Age 36

Chicago, IL

Police Officer

After six years in the Marines Corps Reserve, Tara became the first female in the history of the Chicago Police Department to become “Top Gun” of her graduating class and was awarded “Top Gun” of the FBI Firearms Instructor School.

A High Woman’s State Champ in several states in Conventional Pistol, and a former National Champion, she earned her Distinguished Pistol Badge from the Civilian Marksmanship program and the President’s 100 Award at the Nationals at Camp Perry.

Let me know what you think of the show, especially as the weeks go on, and check out a quick video below.

Are You Screening?


Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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