California IT guy Chris Cheng takes Top Shot Season 4 finale
Chris Cheng's ascension to Top Shot was not without obstacles. Unassuming, untrained and understated in almost every aspect of the competition, he was not a popular choice when the show began. Eleven shows later, he stood alongside a Civil War Re-enactor, a Federal Officer and a Triple Nickel Award Winner … things didn't look good for the IT guy.
Though a professional shooting contract and a hundred thousand dollars waited for the winner, the four worked together to ensure that each were at the top of their game.
"What was really great was how much Greg, Gary, Augie, and I were helping each out, spotting for each other, giving each other tips and general observations on how we were shooting," explained Cheng. "Going up against the best is what I think competitive people want to experience. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you fall short, but either way you grow from the experience and figure out how to win the next time around."
Making practice perfect
Each episode of Top Shot followed the same formula: practice, challenge, elimination. What we saw in the final episode, however, diverted from that formula. There was no the practice round — at least for the viewer.
"We actually got off-camera practice time beforehand," said Cheng. "This was primarily for safety reasons. You can’t be expected to approach a grenade launcher and automatically remember how to operate it."
Competitors also had to figure out the guns. Did the shot go high, low, left or right? Was it a simple tap rack bang or was there more to it? Getting the sequence right could make all the difference. With only one magazine or round (what ever the gun holds on a single load), their practice was limited, but valuable.
The Epic Final Stage
Securing a spot on Top Shot is a huge accomplishment. Making it to the finals is even bigger. But there was still a long way to go. Seven stages based on previous challenges awaited the finalist. And it was his last elimination challenge, against FBI Law Enforcement Specialist William Bethards, that helped make the difference.
"I told the art department that one reason why I struggled (against William with the Henry Rifle) was because the backdrop was light grey color. That blended in with the teal colored rings. I had no idea they were using that challenge in the finale and I’m sure glad I told them to make that backdrop darker!"
Running neck and neck with fellow finalist Gregory Littlejohn, Cheng arrived at the final stage (hit two targets with a Milkor USA M32A1 grenade launcher) a few seconds off the pace. Littlejohn, a World Champion Grenadier, fired first. Unfortunately for Littlejohn, his shot skipped short. Ready to grab the advantage, Cheng stumbled before securing the win.
"When I brought up the grenade launcher, I saw the target, but no bright orange hash marks in the reticle … . I forgot to turn on the scope! I burned a few seconds lowering the launcher and turning the scope on, but luckily I didn’t get rattled by the small slip-up on that epic final stage."
Taking the Top Shot title home
Win or lose, competitors are contractually obliged to keep their mouth shut. Not a word, a hint or a clue as to how they finished. For some that's an easy task — especially for those who come in without any formal training or shooting accolades.
"I think the only person who thought I had won from the moment I came home from filming in mid-September was my sister. She kept pressing and pressing me saying things like I know you won. You won, didn’t you? Didn’t you?”
Now matter who believe what, Cheng was surrounded by friends and family as each episode aired. The crowds grew larger and more started to believe. A new fan base was born. Soon all started to see that victory was possible. This scrawny IT guy just might walk away with the History Channel title. After the victory, following the praise and cheers and yelps of glee, the only remaining question was what to do with the money?
"The first thing I plan to do is send NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre a check to upgrade my NRA membership to Life status and thank the NRA for all the hard work they do to make competitions like Top Shot possible.
"I want my first investment to symbolize how important it is for all of us who love the shooting sports to support the National Rifle Association in whatever capacity we can, whether it’s with money, with our time, or by simply sharing our love for shooting with friends, family and colleagues. In the end, it is my hope that winning Top Shot will provide a different and unique face of the entire shooting community. One that shows marksmen and women who have day jobs like mine in an office, and shoot for the sake of pure fun. "