Colby Donaldson (Top Shot)

Colby Donaldson: The Interview (Top Shot)

Colby Donaldson rocketed to fame as a contestant on Survivor.  He now takes the reigns as the host for History Channel's first ever competition show, Top Shot, premiering June 6th at 10/9C.

SHAKEFIRE: I was wondering if you could give us a rundown of the format of the show.
COLBY DONALDSON: Basically, we're going to pit two teams against each other in these historical-based challenges.  They're elimination challenges.  So, if the team wins that first challenge, they're safe from elimination.  The losing team then has to nominate two of its competitors to go head-to-head in an elimination challenge.  So, there's going to be two challenges per episode, okay?  There's a team challenge and then an individual challenge.  So, the two players that are nominated will have a practice session, and then they'll go head-to-head in an elimination challenge.  You lost that challenge, you're going home.  So, this is a way that Top Shot differs completely from a show like Survivor.  In Top Shot, you have your fate in your hands at all times, and if you show up and deliver, if you shoot well, you're not going home.  So, you're not getting voted off, you're getting nominated, and that's what makes it very interesting.  So, you may potentially have a player that if the teammates don't like him, for whatever reason - whether it's personality conflict or they don't think they're competent enough to be on the team - and they continually nominate him.  But as long as they show up to that elimination challenge and shoot well and outperform the competitor they're going up again, they're still in the house.  So, that's a really - having played a game like Survivor three times and your fate is in the hands of everyone else, I can certainly appreciate a competition like Top Shot, where you have your fate in your own hands. 

SF: And so the team votes for the two nominated players - like whoever gets the most votes - the top two, they're nominated? 
CD: This was a really cool aspect that I wasn't aware of until the game got under way and here we are standing there.  Just, it turned out to be unbelievable.  So, losing team has to decide who they're going to nominate.  Then they are sent to a nomination range, a gun range, and they each have a target with their name on it.  And so we're going to have a discussion about how the challenge went and how they all feel and maybe who should be nominated.  Then I'm going to call the shooters up one at a time.  They're going to shoot the target of the person they want to nominate.  So here again, very different from most competition shows.  You cannot hide your vote.  When you put a bullet in someone's target, they know exactly that you voted for him, and so that potentially plays into someone's strategy because you can't conceal your vote.  And then at the end of that session, the two shooters that have the most hits in their target, the most bullet holes in their target, are going to go head-to-head in the elimination challenge.  Does that make sense?

SF: Yes, it does.  It's like it's part - you want to nominate the person who's going to leave so that they're not around to get you back.
CD: Yes, well that's the thing.  Well, what you hope is the person you nominate, yes, doesn't win that challenge because then they're back in the house knowing that you voted for them, which again, it's kind of brilliant by design because it does allow for things to play out back at the ranch house.

SF: What's the main difference between being a reality show competitor and the host of the show?
CD: Well based on my experience, the food and lodging is much better when you're the host.  I never knew or I had no idea that having competed three times now on Survivor but also just being a devout fan of the game for as long as I have - for ten years now - I had no idea it would come into play so much as the host.  That's what Top Shot is.  It's specifically a competition show, and it's very similar in some ways to Survivor.  There were a lot of times when the producers and I would come upon situations where it was familiar territory to me, whether it was dealing with a tie break situation or potentially thinking about merging the two teams.  This was all ground that I had covered several times just through my tenure as a competitor.

SF: As somebody who sat through tribal council and had to deal with Jeff Probst's questions, has that made you a little bit more sympathetic to the contestants on this show?
CD: Well, maybe not sympathetic but certainly empathetic.  I do know what these shooters are going through just in terms of trying to maintain focus for this long of a period of time.  It's not about competing one day or two days or three days.  These guys are all thrown together in a house.  You're forced to get along with people that you don't necessarily want to get along with, and even more so on Top Shot because we've got both teams living in one house.  That's what's going to make for some interesting social situations around the ranch house with these guys.  But in terms of Probst, man, I have a whole new appreciation for how good he really is at his job and as host of Survivor.  He's truly unbelievable, and so I've got a whole new appreciation for him and his efforts at that.  But also, I never knew until now how much I was sponging off of him and just learning not only as a competitor on the show but just as a friend of his.  Always admired his work and now it's paying off a little bit because I've certainly learned a few things from him over the years.

SF:  Are there any other shows on the History Channel that you're just huge fans of?
CD: Pawn Stars and American Pickers.  I've got the TiVo set on season pass to both of those shows.  It was truly a perfect fit for me in terms of the firearms and the gun side of this show in this competition.  If I wasn't the host, I would have sent in an application.  No question.  But it's not just about shooting to me.  I am a little bit of a historical firearms buff, and I've been studying and collecting for a lot of years.  So, yes, it was a pretty natural fit for me.

SF: Part of the fun of watching these reality competition shows, whether it's Survivor or Top Shot, is getting to know the contestants through the course of the show.  Is that something that's an element of this show, that we're going to get personal stuff with these people?
CD: Well, no question.  That's what drives the show.  We knew just because of the nature of having guns, blowing stuff up, that we knew that stuff was going to be cool.  There's no way you're just not going to enjoy watching that.  But what you've got to have - what is integral to any good well-done competition show - it starts in the casting and you've really got to put together a dynamic group of individuals.  So in casting Top Shot, there were actually a couple of top-ranked national shooters that didn't make the cut, that didn't make the show, not because they weren't good enough with the gun but because they didn't bring enough to the table in terms - and I don't mean just drama and conflict; it's not all about the friction - but we need dynamic personalities.  We need people that are going to bring something to the competition and to the entire experience of Top Shot beyond their shooting ability, and I think we got that.  So to answer your question:  Absolutely.  That's what having now seen the second and third episodes starting to come together, you really do start getting invested in the players.  As a fan and a viewer, you start picking sides.  You start getting those that you want to support and you want to get behind and you start rooting for and you're hoping they're doing well, and of course, we've got a couple of villains speckled in there, too.  So yes, it's going to make for a good season, no question.

SF: Being from Texas and an outdoors kind of guy, how well do you think you would have done as competitor on the show?
CD: Well, I guess when I first got hired on as the host, I kind of envisioned myself as one of the competitors and thought I would do pretty impressively.  Well, then the game started and I started to see how good these shooters are.  So I don't know.  The thing is the difference - and I think this is another interesting point - when you have a competition like this where you invite shooters from all disciplines and backgrounds, whereas your military guys and your recreational shooters, those guys are used to picking up any weapon with any sort of sight or optic on it and hitting the target.  And that's the way I grew up.  I've been shooting since I was six years old, and growing up hunting, I never had time to adjust the scope or the sights according to wind and all the elements.  I had to adjust on the fly.  We call it Kentucky windage, and that's how you move the gun to hit the target.  Well, professional shooters aren't like that.  A lot of the professional guys are very accustomed to making adjustments on their weapons and taking time.  Well, they aren't going to have that luxury because we're throwing them into challenges that require quick and immediate responses, and that' where you get the intensity and that's why it's so fun as a viewer to watch this whole thing play out.  So to answer your question:  I don't know.  I'd like to think I'd hold in there and do pretty good but it would be tough.  I don't know.  I don't know that I'm going to answer that question.

SF: So, we've seen you on three seasons of Survivor.  We've seen you on Rachel Ray and even Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Which of your past television appearances best represents the Colby we can expect to see as a host?
CD: Well, obviously, it's a completely different role but I've got to defer to Survivor only because of when you think of competition shows, Survivor's the benchmark.  And I've got to tell you, that's what we were gunning for out there.  We want to put together a show that will be revered much the way Survivor is and so they've set the bar.  Survivor's set the bar and we're out there trying to match it or exceed it.  So, clearly, it's hard to compare the two because my roles are so different on Survivor versus Top Shot, but it certainly one helps the other.  That's it, although I'm very proud of my Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Peter Oberth
Interview by Peter Oberth
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