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The Attraction of Reality TV

Before the Top Shot series, neither Bitter and I were watchers of reality TV. I don’t expect that to change, despite the fact that we both enjoy the show. But I understand better now what people like about reality TV. I think people can like it for different reasons, which is probably why the genre has been so successful. On one level, people can like it because people like heros and villains. Because everyone can choose different heros and villains, it provides people with something else humans enjoy doing: gossiping. On another level, people seem to enjoy living vicariously through their favoriate characters, as they struggle through the series. The level I think Bitter and I like it on is that it’s a pretty interesting social game, and the shooting aspect of Top Shot just provides a context we can more easily relate to and understand, more so than a series like Survivor would.

The problem with social games is they tend to be a little underhanded and dirty. Politics is really the great social game, and this is certainly true about politics. This also feeds the hero/villain aspect that many people find attractive. I’ve never been able to work up the same kind of animosity towards Adam Benson that a lot of other people did. He was merely playing what he thought would be a winning strategy. It got him far, but not to the end. His nemesis Caleb was also playing what he thought would be a winning strategy as well. Nothing wrong with that, I think, if you’re serious about winning.

So why are so many shooters upset with certain aspects of Top Shot? Probably because a lot of it violates our sense of good sportsmanship, and we’re used to thinking about shooting in that context. In a shooting competition we’d think someone behaving like Adam was a poor sport, and we’d expect that it would be the most highly skilled shooters that would come out on top. But Top Shot isn’t a shooting competition, but a social game — a political game — with guns. While I’ve no doubt many shooters would prefer to watch a pure shooting show, the variety of people Top Shot is appealing to is probably better for the movement, overall, than a shooting show not many people watch. As Caleb mentioned, “he didn’t call it an assault rifle, or a military rifle, or any of the terms you see the media slipping in to demonize these weapons.  What did he call it?  A semi-automatic sporting rifle.” And then people see the contestants use them in the same manner as any other rifle. You can’t pay for PR that good.

UPDATE: Maybe we can hope for a reality TV show one day that’s another type of social game. One that harkens back to an older, simpler time. Top Dueler?

9 Responses to “The Attraction of Reality TV”

  1. Dave says:

    I despise reality shows. I must be in the minority though because they keep making them. I guess it is a cheap and cost effective way to fill up a time slot, like the early game shows must have been.

  2. JamesLee says:

    I’m one episode behind on Top Shot right now, gotta love the DVR. Actually really loved it when one of them (sorry, don’t remember the name) had the Beretta on the fuse-cutting line and it didn’t lock back. Had to go back and count shots.

    What I would like to see in future versions of this might be a cumulative-points type of system, rather than a vote-for-someone thing. Eventually, they can tally the points, send the bottom half, two thirds, whatever, off while the final competitions are carried out.

  3. Bitter says:

    I think you have to leave the voting in it. If you make it pure shooting, it’s not nearly as entertaining. (Evidence? Reality shows are a dime a dozen, even on the major networks. Shooting shows aren’t. They don’t attract nearly the audience.)

    During an NRA News interview, Adam said their little alliance had a plan in place had blue team not made it as far as they had. They planned to vote out their weakest shooters first if they started losing challenges. Only by making it so far did they have the option to think about sending the top guys home to improve their own chances later in the game. If that drama didn’t exist, I think there are elements of the show that would be far more boring. The weaker shooters would be identified early on and then we’d unceremoniously watch them leave.

    I think the intriguing thing about the Top Shot set up and audience is that there’s still a “demand” out there for the real “top shooter” to win something. And rather than be a straight-up vote someone off the island situation, they do add in a bit of shooting skill to determine who actually leaves. I think that mix is why it attracts people who don’t watch shooting shows (ex. my mom who also watches because Colby is the HOTNESS) and people who would prefer a shooting format, but are interested nonetheless.

  4. Tam says:

    I don’t see why anybody would be “upset” by the drama on Top Shot.

    I don’t particularly like green peppers on my pizza, but I’m not upset that they’re on the menu. This is why God invented channel clickers.

  5. Anon R. D. says:

    Sort of a flip, faux-insightful comment, Tam — the reason, of course, is that there aren’t very many well-produced shows about shooting to choose from. So the lame aspects of Top Shot (which I have basically liked) feel like a wasted opportunity.

    Then, too, a lot of us care about TS because, as the first mass-media show about the shooting culture, it will be an emissary for that culture to the public at large. Not the end-all and be-all, but important.

    Got it now?

  6. Caleb says:

    Interestingly enough, the most recent episode which featured no voting exceeded the ratings of the premiere. Non-voting shows can be successful, look at the Ultimate Fighter for example.

    I’m not saying that History should abandon the voting format, because that element does draw non-shooters. However, the numbers are interesting to say the least.

    • Bitter says:

      They also weren’t running marathons all weekend long and didn’t have months of promotions under their belt before the premiere. Viewers didn’t know that there would be no voting this week, so you can’t actually use that to argue. The only way to compare would be to change the format next season, run a similar ad/outreach campaign, and then measure middle and end episodes. (The first couple would have viewers with set expectations, so one or two would have to be dismissed.) You’re suggesting we compare apples to oranges, even if it is the same show.

  7. Heather from AK says:

    Well, the shows like Top Chef, Project Runway, don’t have voting and still do well. I don’t know that voting is the be-all and end-all.

    Of course, cooking and modeling are also less cut-and-dry, so there’s more room for drama in the judge’s decision, whereas shooting is much more measurable.

  8. Ian Argent says:

    I kind of wish someone would do a Chopped-style shooting show. a smaller group of shooters, x-1 contests, and a small prize.

    Maybe do a camera’d up shoot-house or course of action and run the contestants through a scnario or something one at a time. The problem being is that, as Caleb mentioned, the cameras they were using were not cheap, and that kind of thing would be rough on the cameras. Though I suppose you could put the cameras in an armored housing and just replace mirrors every so often. Do color commentary on each competitor.

    I think you’d need some interaction, though. Chopped works because of the panel grilling the contestants, IMHO – and I’m not sure listening to an AAR/critique is going to be exciting to people other than the coutnerstrike kids. Might get them to watch, though.

    If you can say, Caleb, did they lose any of the downrange cameras during Top Shot?

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