Reflections on Top Shot Seasons 3 and 4

Although I had a bad taste in my mouth from how the ending of Top Shot Season 2 went down, I still tuned in to Season 3 (and then Season 4), though usually watching it on DVR rather than going out of my way to watch it live.

Dominant memory of Season 3: Self-taught recreational shooter/Christian Camp Director/foster parent Dustin Ellerman absolutely destroyed the final obstacle course, beating Mike Hughes, and winning the title of “Top Shot.”

dustin-ellermannIt was an interesting match-up. Hughes made the final after being eliminated, when Jake Zweig – the dominant narrative force on the show through episode 10 – refused to compete in an elimination challenge and Hughes was allowed back as the last person eliminated. Ellerman came into the show as a nobody – voted into the first elimination for the blue team because he lacked credentials, but then destroying the challenge and earning his team’s respect.

Zweig was an interesting and polarizing figure because, although a good shot, he was also one of the top douchebags of all time in Top Shot history. In fact, the Everyday No Days Off had to redact his photo because his douchebaggery was too strong.

Photo courtesy of everydaynodaysoff gun blog

He was interesting because he embraced the strategic side of the “game” of Top Shot and renounced the “honorable” ideals that are sometimes promoted. He disagreed strongly with those who said they wanted to eliminate the weakest shooters so they could compete against the best competition. Zweig freely admitted that he wanted to eliminate the strongest shooters and compete against the weakest to give himself the best chance of winning. This would have been OK by me – refreshing honesty – if it wasn’t also surrounded by an offensive personality/persona. The fact that he walked off the show rather than competing in an elimination challenge spoke volumes. Some people say that competition builds character, but I have always believed that it reveals character.

Season 4 was even lower drama than Season 3. Except for a few of what I would call personality conflicts, there was no major drama in the season. The most we got was the harmonious, family like atmosphere of the red team contrasted with the dysfunctional family like atmosphere of the blue team.

Chris Cheng NRA 2013And Season 4, like Season 3, produced a surprising winner: Chris Cheng (who I met at the NRA meeting in Houston this year). When he first started out, I thought Cheng was going to be this season’s Jay Lim. Asian self-taught shooter and “IT guy” (instead of golf instructor). Turns out that, one conflict with good ole boy big game hunter Tim Trefren notwithstanding, his interpersonal skills were stronger than Lim’s. And the lower number of individuals with a military background on this season meant that there was not the same ganging up that Lim had to suffer.

From Season 3, Alex Charvat, Phil Morden, and Gary Quesenberry are returning for All-Stars. All quiet or at least more reserved individuals. From Season 4, William Bethards, Gabby Franco, Chee Kwan, Gregory Littlejohn, and Kyle Sumpter. An interesting group with some crowd favorites (Franco, Kwan), the red team leader (Sumpter), and two of the more polarizing figures from the blue team (Bethards and Littlejohn).

Because there was less drama in Seasons 3 and 4 than in Season 2 (it was more like Season 1 in that respect), it was easier to watch and appreciate the weapons and marksmanship. Top (memorable) weapons and shots from the two seasons include:

  • Revolver shoot Cliff Walsh dominating the “cannonball run” elimination challenge using a Glock 34
  • Using a bulldog gatling gun to chop down 3 telephone poles and using a Hotchkiss mountain gun to shoot at water towers in two of the elimination challenges.
  • Throwing rocks! Amazing how bad some of them looked throwing.
  • Shooting a .22LR bullet through the hole in the middle of a compact disk from 35 feet away (Alex Charvat).
  • The McMillan Tac-50 rifle. Dustin hit a 30-inch moving target 500 yards away in less than 8 seconds I think.
  • Shooting at 20 targets in a circle while strapped to a rotating arm using an H&K SP89!
  • The Milkor USA M32A1 grenade laucher!
  • The 1,500 yard shot with the Accuracy International AX338 rifle.
  • The FN Five-seven

I know a lot of “gun guys” think that Top Shot is stupid and that they would rather see real shooters competing in a real shooting competition – just turn the cameras on at let the shooters shoot. But I like reality TV and will always have a special connection with Top Shot. Looking back to that fateful day three years ago when I was flipping through channels while killing time in a hotel room, if I turned on “3 Gun Nation” and watched someone in a jersey double tapping into paper targets with a pistol and rifle then knocking down some steel plates with a shotgun, I don’t know if I would have become interested in guns. Seeing someone shoot a reactive target using a rifle backwards over their shoulder and a mirror to aim!? Now that is exciting TV. Seeing different weapons and what people could do with them was very appealing to me.

Tara Poremba
Tara Poremba courtesy of

It will be interesting to watch Season 5 having just re-watched the first 4 seasons in the past 2 weeks. I feel like a know something about all of the individuals competing and it will be interesting to see them again in light of that. I don’t have any idea who might win, but I hope the following individuals do well: Kelly Bachand, Chris Cerino, Peter Palma, Jamie Franks, Gabby Franco, and Chee Kwan. Looking over this list, I have to say my heart is with the underdogs.


  1. Thanks for the support!!! Catch my new TV show on Animal Planet Catch and Release…and see a far better look at who I am. Catch me on Facebook or Twitter.


  2. Thanks for stopping by Jake Zweig. I love reality TV, so I will be watching out for the show and it will be good to see you back on TV in an environment of your own choosing.

    For others interested:

    Here is a description of the Animal Planet show:


    Unprepared and left to fend for yourself, what would you do if you were captured, blindfolded and taken to a remote location? In CATCH AND RELEASE (wt), five of the world’s most elite, thrill-seeking survivalists come together to do just that: playing a “game” that puts their skills to the ultimate test. Each survivalist has a different background: there’s a Green Beret; a former Navy SEAL; two survival-school instructors; and a primitive-skills expert. Each is captured one at a time by the other four, is dropped in one of the world’s harshest environments and has a maximum of 100 hours to find his way back to civilization, alive and unscathed, or he loses the game. It’s man against nature (and his four best friends) as each action-packed, dramatic episode of CATCH AND RELEASE crisscrosses the globe – from dense jungles to frigid glaciers – to match wits in this game of survival. And with reputations and bragging rights on the line, do these guys have what it takes to survive the ultimate challenge?


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