Last night’s premier was a great start to Top Shot Season 5 and an evolution of the Top Shot franchise. Colby Donaldson has a new haircut and his teeth are a shade whiter. I’m sure fans appreciated the familiar California setting and dramatic theme music. Having all four of the season winners present to kick it off was a nice touch. They explained the rule changes—no more teams, no more alliances, a completely individual competition, with the losers determined by the results. NOW it’s a shooting match! Oh, and in addition to the $100,000 grand prize, the winner also gets a pretty sharp speedboat, albeit with a kinda cheesy Top Shot logo plastered on both sides. Hell, I’d take it.
Okay, if the first challenge was any indication, History has upped the ante. An obstacle course consisting of a rope crossing, pole climb, and barbwire crawl to an unstable platform, got their hearts racing. Between each obstacle were shooting stations where competitors engaged exploding targets at 125 yards, using an SVT-40 Soviet Battle Rifle, a Larue Tactical OBR, and the FN FAL. Most of the shooters did well through the course, with a great showing by Alex Charvat, who aced it with three perfect shots. On the other end, both Gary Quesenberry and my TS2 friend, Brian Zinns, struggled with the FN FAL. Gunny Zinns was breathing hard (I actually thought he might be having a heart attack) making it difficult to aim on the unstable platform. He still beat Quesenberry’s time, who plugged his way through most of a magazine in order to hit his target.
How did they figure out who gets eliminated? The bottom eight shooters (by time of obstacle course completion) got one shot with a Colt peacemaker to hit the center of a target, with the two farthest out facing off in an elimination challenge. It was fair, required skill, and identified the correct two weakest shooters, at least for today—Gary Quesenberry and Gregory Littlejohn whose shot was five inches out from the bullseye. That told me he was going to have a bad day.
During his season, Gregory Littlejohn was inconsistent and choked at crucial moments. I had him listed in my bottom two, but he must have been feeling good because the elimination weapon was one he was familiar with—a MilCorp MK-32A1 six-shot grenade launcher! This was the same weapon type that eliminated him in TS3. In his own words, this would either be “sweet redemption, or embarrassing” failure.
The projectiles were chalk-marking rounds, and both shooters looked good in practice. Their elimination challenge was to be the first to hit four exploding targets at distances from 50 to 75 yards. So, with a couple of cases of grenades each, the two men took their marks. When Colby gave the signal, both men were quickly loaded and firing, with Gary hitting his target first, then Greg. Both had two targets left when Greg had to reload. Gary waited for the smoke to clear so he could see his third target, and when it did, he got the shot off quickly to move ahead. Behind, Greg engaged his third target while Gary reloaded, but competition nerves had set in, and he was clearly frustrated as round after round burst just outside of the exploding target. Gary got back on target, took careful aim, and with one shot, ended the challenge.
We’ll have to see how the season progresses. There are no bad guys to hate, no scheming or throat-cutting, bandana exchanges, and hopefully no fits of crying. In short, the dramatic tension built into the show based on personality dynamics may be lost, but for most fans, that’s a good thing. Last night’s premier was an enjoyable and refreshing return to shooting entertainment, and I think the folks at History may have finally gotten it right.