Top Shot Champ Chris Cheng shares his competition experience
Mission Viejo, California -
The first challenge during Season 4 of Top Shot came before the first commercial break. That competition sent young Forrest and Craig the chemist home and broke the others into teams of two. The eventual champion, California's Chris Cheng, landed on Team Red.
In what looked like a collection of characters from the Island of Misfit Toys, Team Red's performance went from dominant to dotty in the first two shows. Each stage, success and failure, had a profound affect on the competitors.
"When we pulled off a win in the first team challenge, I think we were all having a lot of fun," said Cheng. "It grounded us when we lost Keith in the second team challenge. It was terrible losing a team member."
A loss that most in the audience failed to appreciate. For the general public, it's all guns, fun and spectacular challenges. But it wasn't the same for competitors. Already isolated from family and friends in the outside world, each elimination removed another pillar of support.
"The stress of team competition creates an environment where we formed strong bonds very quickly. It is an abnormal situation that can be difficult for viewers to appreciate."
Toss your Atlatl in the air like you just don't care
History tells us that Top Shot producers enjoy throwing curve balls. The infamous rock throwing challenge from Season 3 is one prime example. Another, from Season 4, is the Atlatl.
Chris Cheng hits the bullseye with an Atlalt for an elimination round win on History Channel's Top Shot - photo courtesy of History
If you're anything like me, you were probably at home, sitting on the couch thinking an atlatl is the dart or the arrow that Cheng was flinging through the air. It wasn't. Instead, it's the device he used to throw the arrows or darts. And it's the tool Cheng had to master to continue his quest for the championship.
"I was practicing my form a lot when I got back to the house, and my main goal was to build in that muscle memory," explained Cheng. "With my baseball background, I learned how to break down a swing into stages, and I took this same approach with an Atlatl checklist."
The odds were not in his favor. Everyone had to assume that his opponent in the elimination challenge, big game guide Tim Trefren, would have the upper hand. But the checklist, combined with shorter practice sessions and visualization exercises, provided enough of an edge for Cheng to escape his last team-based elimination.
Taking out the Hey Diddle Diddle
Once in the finals, donning the prized green jerseys, Cheng would go head to head with Season 4's top talker — William Bethards. A decorated pistol shooter, as well as an FBI Firearms Instructor, Bethards captured America's attention with his catch phrase, "Hey diddle diddle, right down the middle." He also captured our attention with a touch of, for a lack of a better word, arrogance. But what we saw at home was not what Team Red experienced at the house.
"The Blue team did a good job of not airing their dirty laundry in front of us, so most of us took pity on William because we knew he was not in the Blue team clique," Cheng said. "We had no idea he had such a strong personality until 3 or 4 days before the sniper rifle challenge (titled 'The Longest Shot').
"His 'middle of the road' comment struck a nerve and I was telling myself that if I didn’t change my vote (to send William to the elimination challenge), I would regret it forever."
For the elimination, it was an 1860 Henry Rifle with targets at 45 to 55 feet. Bethards started fast and Cheng started slow. For a while there, it looked as if he hadn't started at all. But there was still time. He found his targets, gained his sights and rallied. Bucking Bethards' instincts to for a full reload, Cheng went with a half, finished off his targets and there was no Hey Diddle Diddle no more.
Securing the win not only saved his skin, but it also provided Cheng with that one last boost of confidence. The kind you can only get after making a game saving play. The kind that makes you believe.
"Coming from so far behind is one of those experiences that truly tests who can slug it out to the very end," Cheng surmised. "We see a lot of competitors, teams, and athletes just give up in sports, and my stubborn side has never let me give up. I will fight until the very end."
We'll be back in a few days with Cheng's insight on the finals.