One reality/competition show that visually stands out from the pack is History Channel's fast-growing competition-shooting series Top Shot. Now airing its fourth season, the series, hosted by Survivor alumnus Colby Donaldson, follows the progress of 18 competitors vying for the Top Shot crown: a $100,000 prize, along with a Bass Pro Shops professional shooting contract. Each episode revolves around interesting and unique shooting and weapons challenges varied enough to be compelling for the audience and demanding enough so that each shooter, no matter his or her area of expertise, will require skills far outside of their normal speciality.
Top Shot director of photography Matthew Novello was brought onboard to co-create the look of the show before the first episode was shot. "Everybody on the show strives to do something that looks better than a typical reality show," explains Novello. "Pilgrim Studios, Top Shot's production company, has given us a lot of support for our ideas about the look."
Each episode of the show features two teams that begin the season with nine competitors each. Each team faces multiple challenges, and in between the challenges, cameras shoot behind-the-scene sequences at the house that the competitors live in. Novello operates the show's second unit using a Phantom high-speed camera that AbelCine in L.A. provides the show. While the high-speed second unit is shooting, the show's first unit is shooting multicamera coverage of the challenges, intros and segues. During all of this, the show's third unit is shooting footage at the house. It's no wonder that the crew for the show is quite large by reality-television standards.
In regards to the high-speed photography, Novello explains, "We did some testing with the Phantom V12.1 high-speed camera system before Season One, and everyone agreed the results were stunning. At this point on the show, getting ready for Season Five, we're looking for new and creative ways of doing the same shots we've done in previous seasons, as well as new angles and styles, and adding motion that will translate to an ultra-high-speed shot."