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Top Shot is a Reality Show program on The History Channel, beginning in 2010. 16 people are brought to a California ranch that has been converted into an outdoor shooting range and split up into two teams of 8 to compete for a $100,000 prize and the privilege of being named "Top Shot". Some contestants have military training, some are current or former law enforcement officers, some are amateurs, but all have considerable skill in the use of ranged weapons. They are put through a series of diverse team competitions, and, in addition to the team challenges, each episode has a one-on-one challenge in which a member of the losing team is eliminated. When enough people are eliminated, the teams are dissolved and the show becomes a free-for-all.

Most of the challenges focus on guns (from archaic military weapons to specially designed race guns), but other skills such as knife-throwing and archery have been tested as well. Primitive weapons such as blowguns, slingshots, and even rocks have been used as a test of marksmanship. Strategic voting and political maneuvering also impact the outcome of each episode.

Has been suggested to be the Spear Counterpart of America's Next Top Model.

The second season premiered on February 8, 2011. The third season premiered on August 9, 2011. Season 4 premiered February 14, 2012.


Tropes used:

  • The Archer: Chris Palmer and Bill Troubridge, the instructors for the "Archer Enemies" episode; and Chris Brackett, the instructor for "Compound Fracture". And Jay Lim, Chris Reed, and Joe Serafini in season 2.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Jack Dagger, one of the experts from season 2. Also in the running is J.J. "Razor" Racaza.
  • Back From the Dead: After Jake's forfeit, show rules dictated that the previous contestant eliminated Big Mike Hughes, ironically one of Jake's biggest rivals be brought back to take his place in the elimination challenge, and be given a chance to get back into the house. Mike won, eliminating Phil Morden.
    • Mike ultimately placed second in the competition.
  • Berserk Button: Jake Zweig of Season 3, after he gets sent to elimination for being an ass, despite not being the worst shooter that week. After he effortlessly won the Cornershot challenge, he went off on his team and moved outside, and subsequently became an even bigger dick than he already was. Ultimately, when he was sent to a second elimination, he chose to forfeit the competition rather than face the idea of losing, which seemed to have finally eaten away at him.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: Jake, who was so fixated on winning, chose to forfeit the competition after getting sent to elimination a second time so as to avoid even the possibility of defeat. He never quite got over his first elimination trip.
  • BFG: Sniper rifles for 1,000-yard shots, howitzers, grenade launchers, 3.2-inch cannons, .500 Magnum revolvers...
  • Book Ends: Season 3 started and ended with the same challenge - shoot three targets with the Smith & Wesson .500 revolver.
  • Bullet Time / Slow Motion: Firearms are involved. It's mandatory.
  • Captain Obvious: The host calls out EXACTLY what is happening, thank you for telling us he missed the target again. USAF Sniper George Reinas calls him out on this during season 2's Behind The Bullet special and also remarks that he had earplugs in and was firing a gun and he could still hear Colby.
  • Catch Phrase: William in season 4.

  William: Hey diddle diddle, right down the middle.

  • Crippling Overspecialization: There's a trend of self-taught generalist shooters outperforming champion shooters, who may be world-class masters with a single weapon but haven't proven as adaptable.
  • Curb Stomp Battle:
    • In Season 1, Red Team fell down to only two members by the merge; the best placement being fourth.
    • In Season 2, the inverse happens; Blue Team is down to two by the merge, and both are eliminated right off the bat.
      • The Behind The Bullet special aired after the finale shows why this happened: Chris Reed was MUCH better at sniffing out quality shooters than Jay Lim was. Whereas Jay would choose members based on how many competitions they had won (leading towards members with only one specialty), Chris chose based on how much they knew about weapons and other things in general (leading towards well rounded marksmen).
    • Nearly every individual/elimination challenge involving Season 3 champ Dustin Ellerman, especially the last challenge in the Season 3 finale. He had a near-perfect run through the second half of the course and finished it while his opponent was still struggling with the shotgun at the third station. The only real exception was the first challenge in the finale, where he lost the first round to Gary, but beat Chris to advance.
    • Due to the way they work, whenever the dueling trees come out, it inevitably turns into this.
    • Season 4, shotgun challenge; red team works well together and has informally acknowledged leadership, while blue team squabbles constantly and openly says they have cliques at odds with one another. In a challenge involving heavy teamwork, things do not go well for blue team.
    • Season 4's fifth elimination challenge. First round ends in, for the first time, a perfect tie (same number of targets hit, same number of shots fired). Round 2 is a different story. Tim Tefrin hit 18 out of 20 targets, while Eric "Iggy" Keyes only managed to hit 8.
  • Cut the Fuse: During "Shortest Fuse", the contestants had to shoot the fuse off of a bomb with a pistol and ten shots. It proved extremely hard, to the point where only a couple of shooters managed it their first try.
  • Deep South: Denny, who was also a Wild West entertainer. Chris Reed in season two.
  • Down to the Last Play: The final challenge of season 4. Chris Cheng beat Greg Littlejohn by one grenade round.
  • Final Exam Boss: The last challenge of the season is always one of these, featuring several of the most prominent challenges of the season.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Dustin Ellerman, a completely self taught Christian camp counselor with no competition or military experience, completely dominated pretty much everything he was involved with, and won the final challenge against Big Mike Hughes with ease. In truly ironic fashion, it was due to his perceived weakness and lack of experience that he was sent to elimination in the second episode.
    • In Season 4, pretty much the exact same thing happens. Completely self taught IT professional Chris Cheng comes out on top. Although he was nowhere near as dominant as Dustin was, he was still a natural with pretty much everything.
  • Game Show: 15 of the contestants are eliminated until 1 is left; they win the $100,000 grand prize. Also, from Season 2 on, the winner of an elimination challenge gets a $2,000 Bass Pro Shops gift card. Season 4 added a professional shooter contract, again from Bass Pro Shops, for the winner.
  • Gun Porn: Of course.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: The host is Colby Donaldson, the popular three-time Survivor contestant. He does a dead on mimic of Jeff Probst's body language and speech patterns. And shit-eating grin.
  • Idiot Ball: During Season 4, Colby introduces a somewhat archaic weapon and asks if anyone has any experience with it. One person from the team with more members raises their hand... and subsequently, the other team picks that person to not participate in the challenge since team challenges require even teams. Said contestant even Lampshades his own lack of foresight after the fact.
  • Impossible Task: Lampshaded by Brian Zins regarding the 1000 Yard shot during the Behind the Bullet special:

 Brian: We're going... "Do you guys really understand what you're asking us to do?" [...] We may never hit this target.

    • Also, as shown in Improbable Aiming Skills below, a number of shots are done with relative beginners for stunts that are hard for shooters that regularly use the involved weapon normally.
    • The "Horse" challenge of Season 4 winds up being this, with the three competitors choosing shots that start each of them off 0/3. Colby does not hesitate to point this out.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: All challenges with the exception of the first team challenge have required some marksmanship feats that are difficult or legendary for shooters with experience with the weapon. It's common for at least half the contestants to have minimal or no experience and they still generally perform competently.
  • It's All About Me: Jake. He actually requested he be given immunity to make up for being sent to elimination.
  • Jerkass
    • Adam, in "The Good, The Rat, and the Ugly."
    • George in Season 2 though he somewhat redeemed himself in the second to last event by purposely missing a shot to allow Chris Reed another chance.
    • Ashley also donned the role in an episode by talking serious shit to Jamie. He was sent to elimination because of it (by people who dislike Jamie, no less), and when he loses, he refuses to shake Jamie's hand when he leaves.
    • Jake in Season 3, who accused all of his teammates of "conspiring" against him when he was voted to an elimination challenge for his poor attitude, then moved outside the house and told his teammates "If you want my help, ask me...and give me immunity for the next challenge." After the recurve bow challenge which they won, he attempted to provoke one of his own teammates into striking him (which would be grounds for instant DQ).
    • The Season 3 Behind The Bullet special elaborates further on how much of an asshole Jake was. He stated that much of his behavior was designed to throw the competitors off of their game, which included constantly waking them up, and impersonating their kids being in danger while they slept to invade their dreams.
    • While George was at least genuine friends with those in his circle, Jake was friends with no one.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: A rather twisted example from season 3. At one point, Jake attempted to get his rival Mike ejected by trying (and failing) to provoke Mike into hitting him. Mike was later eliminated in a challenge, but when Jake Rage Quit before the next challenge, Mike was brought back to face Jake's opponent Phil. In other words, Jake's own actions were directly responsible for his rival's return to the show. Mike ended up finishing second place overall.
  • Made of Iron: Brian Zins made it to the season 2 finals without ever being in an elimination challenge. George Reinas made it all the way to the finals without ever having his nomination range target shot.
  • Manly Tears: Greg Littlejohn of Season 4 can't bear the thought of voting for anyone based on performance due to his intense love for his team mates, so he ends up voting for Terry (who was already in the elimination challenge at that point), so Terry would be the one to choose his opponent instead of himself, and proceeds to tear up right after and during a cutaway interview. YMMV on how "manly" you consider the tears to be. And rather ironically, he was on the blue team which was rife with cliques and interpersonal problems - himself not excluded from it - so while he may have been close to his team mates, the feeling was not always mutual.
  • Never Live It Down: Greg giving Colin his bandana as a parting gift. He got so much ribbing for it that he vowed never to do such a thing again. The Behind The Bullet special revealed that Colin sent it back to him.
  • No Indoor Voice: Colby Donaldson's running commentary during the challenges is loud enough to be heard by the shooters. While they're shooting. And wearing ear protection. Sure, he has to be loud enough for the shooters to hear his call to cease fire, but still, the whole time?
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: "The Good, The Rat, and the Ugly." Caleb decides to be honest and reveals Adam's backstabbing, but gets Voted Off the Island for his trouble.
  • Non Gameplay Elimination: Tara in Season 1 (her father was dying of cancer), John Guida in Season 2 (double hamstring pull), Billy Rogers in Season 3 (complications with his wife's pregnancy), and Jake Zweig of Season 3 (forfeited due to reasons he never really elaborated on).
  • Paintball Episode: Early in Season 2.
  • Precision F-Strike: In the sniper rifle challenge in Season 3, Jake comments that the wind is much harsher than during practice and it's going to be rough since the target is moving. Colby's response is "Let me be the first to tell you. You are fucked today, gentlemen."
  • Rage Quit: Jake in season 3, when voted into elimination (for the second time) against Phil, leading to just-been-eliminated Mike Hughes (the guy he attempted to eliminate by provoking him to attacking him) taking his place for the challenge. Ironically enough, Mike won that challenge and finished the season as the runner-up.
  • Reality TV Show Mansion
  • Red Shirt: As a sort of meta example, Season 1's Red Team. Noted in Curb Stomp Battle above.
  • Running Gag:
    • Adam and Caleb's feud in "The Good, The Rat, and the Ugly".
    • Season 2 has everyone pointing out at every possible point that Jay Lim is a golf instructor. Including Jay himself.
    • Season 4's Greg Littlejohn had a knack for letting his nerves get the better of him, and he also had a bit of a tendency to get emotional. Most importantly was his ability to survive elimination, ultimately setting a Top Shot record of 5 (3 during the main competition and 2 in the finals).
  • Semper Fi: The day of the last Team Challenge of Season 2 coincided with the Marine Corps Birthday. As half of the remaining contestants at the time were Marines, they performed the annual Birthday Ceremonial at the house, inviting the other remaining contestants (1 Navy, 2 Air Force, and 1 Civilian) to witness. Two of those Marines would go on to be the Final Two of that Season.
  • Shocking Elimination: Blake. Later in the finale, JJ Racaza. Many expected him to be one of the final two, but he ended up in third place due to either bad luck or a flawed strategy. Jermaine and Daryl in Season 2, both sent home by Jay Lim, the golf instructor.
  • Shoot the Dog: Season 3's Jake outright says his strategy is to vote for the strongest shooters so that he doesn't have to worry about them later, which is the opposite of the rest of the contestants' viewpoint (in that they want to face the best).
  • Shout-Out: To William Tell ("Archer Enemies") and Annie Oakley ("Wild Wild West").
  • Spin-Off: Top Guns premiered the same day as season 4 and is all about the firearms themselves, not the competition. It can be found on H2.
  • Smurfette Principle: Generally, one or two females are included in the competition, but tend to make early exits.
    • Season 2: Athena and Maggie were picked for separate teams. They're the second and fourth to be eliminated, respectively.
    • Season 3: Amanda and Sara, also on different teams. They're the first two to be eliminated, respectively. Amanda was nominated for shooting the worst in the team challenge, but Sara was more or less nominated because she was a woman, despite being an army vet and a police officer/SWAT member. That didn't stop her competition, Christian camp counselor and completely self taught shooter Dustin, from demolishing her in the elimination challenge.
    • Averted with Tara, the only woman in Season 1. She stayed in the competition until Episode 8, then left voluntarily after learning of her father's failing health.
    • Season 4: Michelle has so far upheld the tradition of early female elimination (and snark), going out in Episode 3. She also upholds the tradition of being demolished by a male elimination challenger (Terry Vaughan, former British military). On the other hand, the season's other female contestant, Gabby Franco, made it to the individual phase, the first woman in Top Shot history to do so. But as if on cue, she's the first to be sent home afterwards, and by the contestant she was closest with to boot (Chee Kwan).
    • Season 4's Behind the Bullet reveals that Michelle's audition tape consisted largely of photos of her with lots of guns and little clothing, giving further credence to the idea of "token females."
  • Sudden Death: Season 4 began with 18 players rather than 16. A preliminary challenge was played to determine who would be on which team, and the two worst performers were immediately sent packing.
    • The first challenge of Season 4's individual phase, a 1500 yard shot with a sniper rifle, was also one of these. Naturally, Gabby is sent home.
  • Suffer the Slings: One challenge involved slingshots.
  • The Gunslinger: The contestants, duh!
  • The Mean Brit: Iain's plan to eliminate Jim was controversial among the contestants.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: Ashley jokingly tells Joe to remember to "pack up his hopes and dreams, bitch!" before the two go to elimination.
  • Those Two Guys: Jarrett and Gary of Season 3. They're friendly rivals in real life, and interviewed together in the Behind The Bullet special.
  • Trailers Always Lie: The trailers either paint the show as a serious competition, or completely omit the fact that it's a reality show.
  • Trick Shot Puzzle: Some of the challenges.
  • Underdogs Never Lose: Kelly.
    • Greg Littlejohn of Season 4, having racked up three elimination wins as the underdog, all of which by two bullets/points or less.
    • Chris Cheng of Season 4 as well. In his elimination challenge, he's up against a former marine and noted competition shooter while Chris himself is an IT guy who only picked up firearms after watching Top Shot. The final challenge itself even goes according to trope. By a few minutes in, the leader has lead of 11 hits out of 15 versus 6 out of 15. And then, while the leader is reloading, the underdog shoots out 5 practically in a row. From there, it's neck and neck with the leader somehow managing to flub hitting the last target long enough for the underdog to reload and fire off a shot to win. Chris Cheng beat Greg Littlejohn by one grenade launcher round, and it was ultimately revealed he shot the round blindly.
  • Voted Off the Island: The elimination challenge. The Nomination Range is where the actual voting takes place. The Elimination Challenge itself is closer to Eliminated From the Race and is that during the entire post-merge phase of Season 1 and the Final Four of Season 2. "You have fired your last shot".
  • What an Idiot!: Jermaine in Season 2. During "Uphill Battle", he invoked this twice during the team challenge by trying to run the gun himself to each station, despite only having to do so for the first and last stations.
    • Ashley out of the blue deciding it would be a good idea to berate the fuck out of Jamie. He took issue with Jamie claiming to be a Navy SEAL, rescue swimmer, and EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) technician. It turned out that Jamie had never claimed to be a SEAL; Chris and Brian Zins, upon finding out he was in the navy, dubbed him "SEAL Team" and that he was only attached to an at-sea EOD unit as their designated rescue swimmer.
    • Season 4's Greg Littlejohn had a reputation for letting his nerves get the better of him in competition. So when he seemed reluctant to shoot his target in "Swing Into Action", it looked like that was happening again. Perhaps nerves played a role, but the bigger problem was that he'd forgotten to set his weapon to full cock, and didn't realize it until a team member pointed it out. Then, to add insult to injury, as he moved to cock his pistol, the musket ball fell out of the barrel. Greg eventually did make the shot, but not before several Red Team members had shot at their targets. The Blue Team won the challenge anyway, as the Red Team missed a few shots and had trouble swinging between platforms. Also, as it was a flintlock pistol, it did require several steps to load and prepare before firing.
      • Subverted in that Greg was sent to three elimination challenges, each of which he won, and earned a spot in the season finale. He came in second to Chris Cheng.
  • Where Are They Now? Epilogue: Each season ends with a short montage of each competitor in order of elimination with about 2-3 sentences of text on their life as a shooter post-Top Shot.
  • Wild West: Several episodes. In addition, one challenge in the final episode of each season begins at a saloon-style bar stocked with weapons and targets.
  • Younger Than They Look: Chris Reed (37) and Brian Zins (41) both look at least 10 years older than they actually are.
    • Season 4's Tim Tefrin also looks about ten years older than his actual age of 34.
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