The competitors on History's Top Shot are very calm. They might be a little too calm — but then again, they are marksmen.
Top Shot, which started airing last night on History, is a competition show for marksmen. (And it is mostly men — 15 of them, and one woman who obligingly said in the preview that she's pretty good "for a girl.") For shooting enthusiasts and people who like gun trivia, it has a lot to offer: it requires participants to use weapons from various moments in history to hit targets, and it actually provides a lot of factual background. In last night's premiere, the focus was on rifles.
Compared to other competition shows, Top Shot comes off as very, very serious in tone. This makes sense; you can't exactly have a lot of hooting and carrying on when people are working with real bullets. (The show is very diligent about showing the weapons training that takes place before every round, which is an entirely responsible decision but has all the excitement of watching Survivor teach everybody how to buckle a safety harness.)
But what's very accidentally funny about Top Shot — in a way that reflects badly on no one but is true nonetheless — is that it demonstrates that you cannot cast a successful competition show using entirely stoics with nerves of steel.
Based on these 16 people, it appears that being a competitive marksman requires that you be the kind of person who cannot be thrown off your game. You have to be able to breathe deeply, access your lizard brain and sedate it to the point where it isn't really even paying attention anymore. Being a chef doesn't require this; being a fashion designer doesn't require this. But being a competitive marksman? Nerves of steel. Breathe in, breathe out. Very Zen.
Unfortunately, 16 people who are not provoked by anything make a fantastic SWAT team, but not much of a reality show, to a kind of hilarious degree. Over and over, they are interviewed and say things that amount, roughly paraphrased, to, "I considered having an emotion, but then I decided not to." Check out this clip in which a guy named Denny reflects on the moment when his teammate was completely unable to successfully hit a target to finish a challenge.
See? Denny considered being frustrated, but then he figured he'd just take it in stride.
The moment when the first contestant was eliminated was even better. Here's a question: if no one tells you which one is Kelly, can you tell which of these guys wins here and which one is eliminated and sent home?
They all seem like good guys. But nobody knows better than host Colby Donaldson — who comes to this gig after spending three seasons as a contestant on Survivor — that extraordinary calm is not necessarily what you're looking for in an exciting competition show. Maybe it's unavoidable, though. It's sad, but it may be true, that every successful reality show has had one person about whom it could be said, "I probably would not want that person to carry a gun."