Saturday, October 01, 2011

Blue Team blues: Jake versus Mike

I haven't been enjoying "Top Shot: Season 3" nearly as much as I enjoyed the previous season. The shooters this time around don't seem particularly distinguished, but even worse, this crop features some loudmouths and jerks. One of them-- a trash-talking redhead named Michael who was, appropriately, on the Red Team-- was finally eliminated a couple episodes ago. It was a relief to see him depart. The other, an ex-SEAL named Jake, lingers on, and in the most recent episode I saw (Episode 8, "Ramp It Up"), Jake managed to piss off the normally-Zen Mike, a fellow Blue Team member who could never be mistaken for the Michael who recently left the show. Mike's a big guy, and he's generally quite calm and methodical, but when Jake started in with his usual trash talk, Mike blew his stack on camera and very nearly hit Jake. Instead he backed down, shaking with fury, while Jake continued to mock him.

Jake has been a problem for Blue Team's esprit de corps. A former SEAL who was supposedly trained as a leader of men, Jake has shown no leadership ability whatsoever. The contrast between his leadership style and that of Season 2 champion Chris Reed was striking: in Episode 6 ("Turn the Corner"), Reed and Season 1 champion Iain Harrison were brought in as guest team leaders who offered advice on how to train for the Vltor TS3 rifle; Reed was laid-back, willing to listen, and able to improvise when his team's shooters were unable to determine whether they were hitting the target (Reed suggested shooting at a certain rock on the nearby berm so the marksmen could see the dust plumes and gauge their accuracy). Harrison, who was coaching the Blue Team in that episode, marveled at the Blue Team's internal disharmony, which to him looked like a bunch of alpha males vying for the top spot. Jake was, of course, one of those alphas. In the end, Reed's team (the Red Team) won, and I think this victory was due in large part to Reed's superb leadership.

Fast-forward to Episode 8. Jake told the camera, in the aftermath of his near-fight with Mike, that he had been in control the entire time, and that he was doing what he could to mess with everyone's minds, thus paving the way to victory. He also commented that the two previous seasons of "Top Shot" were "gentleman's shows," and that his presence this season shook up that dynamic. No disagreement here.

Although I find Jake to be a trash-talking jerk, I don't necessarily disagree with his brutal pragmatism. If I were in trouble in a foreign country, I'd want a dude like Jake to be the one leading the rescue: he'd burn his way straight from A to B and do whatever was necessary to accomplish the mission. Jake's pragmatism is a poor match for a show that had, for two seasons, featured a high level of class and sportsmanship, but I don't see Jake as entirely wrong to view the world, and his competitors, the way he does. As for Mike-- well, I think he lost that round against Jake, because he was on the brink of losing control while Jake manipulated him. Another Blue Team member, Dustin the cheerful Christian camp counselor, said he thought Jake was a coward, but I don't see it that way. Jake was in control, and he was inside Mike's head. Mike should never have allowed himself to get sucked into that vortex.

The upshot for me is that I'll continue to watch this season of "Top Shot," but instead of viewing each episode with eager anticipation, my overriding emotion will be morbid curiosity.

I have Jake to thank for that.


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