A Few TV Thoughts

The Reality of Stress

Top Shot: Part 2

Shame is not a stranger to life. We all have those moments, some few, some many, that we are not proud to have committed and which threaten our belief in ourselves. The outcome of these actions is shame, but what instigates these moments? In today’s world, the bane of existence isn’t disease, war or famine, though those exist in some form or another, no, for modern people it’s stress. Reality shows create a pressured environment to test people’s limits. In other words, stressing people. Top Shot is no different.

We all have coping mechanisms for dealing with tense or uncomfortable situations. I stress over socializing. Give me money troubles, moral difficulties or threats to my physical well-being. I become steely and can do whatever needs doing. Put me in the center of a party and I crumble. To cope I become extremely polite (yes ma’am; yes, sir) and very quiet. I recede into myself and create a blank wall from which to deflect until the threat goes away. (This is remarkably effective at causing people to wander off!)

These mechanisms do you a disservice, lulling you into a false sense of security. They don’t really protect you or help you deal with your stress. In life, as in story, we must put ourselves (and our characters) through the paces, strengthening the weak points within ourselves or fall prey to their deceptive illusions. Such tender places are probed by reality shows, even good ones such as Top Shot.

Former Navy SEAL and Top Shot Season 3 participant Jake Zweig
Former Navy SEAL and Top Shot Season 3 participant Jake Zweig

This is not the kind of show I normally review. As a writer, I enjoy watching specific reality shows as a way to see human interaction or subject matter to which I might not otherwise be exposed. On the flip side, viewers have to be judicious about what rises naturally and what is pushed for by producers needing/desiring conflict.

One of the competitors, Jake Zweig, a former Navy SEAL, got into major rows with the others in the Top Shot house during season 3. He ended up walking off the show entirely instead of going up in another elimination challenge to try to win a spot back in the competition. As a consequence, his main rival, Mike Hughes, got a chance to return. Now I believe Jake was egged on in his conflicts between him and the house by questions the producers posed in his personal interviews. (This isn’t to say a deliberate egging or not deliberate egging by the producers, just that he was motivated by their actions.)

As a former Navy SEAL, Jake should have had a team mentality and a desire to go out against the best. Due to the pressure he felt to win and a tendency toward bravado, in my opinion, he went against his true nature. Now any time he felt defensive and taken advantage of he went into the next challenge doing very well. Like Kelly, from season one, he could have went into the few elimination challenges left and won until at which point the teams dissolved and the individual challenges started. Now he might have been taken out then and there but he could have easily edged out a few of the others… Also he had to know Mike would be brought back. (Surely something he wouldn’t have wanted.) Colby Donaldson stated it’s in the rules. It seemed to me his inner conflict forced Jake to a breaking point.

Where the fight, between his true self and who the show poked and prodded him into being, finally became too much. (This is the whole point of reality shows really – to see who can handle the pressures and still come out on top. This doesn’t always mean it’s the best shot.) I feel like Jake couldn’t be at odds with the group and still compete. So he bowed out, salving his pride and returning to the status quo. This goes to show you character will tell.

A character can act against character and not be contrived if one supports the change in action properly. In life everyone is at the vagaries of outside pressures, not just characters. As a writer though, consistency in characters is so important. Jake really is a massive learning experience. Have you ever heard or read some one say: that wasn’t in character?

Sure you have, maybe you said it yourself.

Think about the outside pressures… Did the writer support the out of character behavior with the right stress? Were the pressures contrived or stereotypical? Did that cause the out of character behavior to fail? As human beings we don’t always follow our programming, but something causes us to deviate, much like how a deer in the road causes us to swerve our car.

A person with the right pressure brought to bear on them will bring alternate, less utilized coping mechanisms to deal with it. Many times these mechanisms are not nice to look at or be, but can be so informative for a writer and in our own lives.

Dustin Ellermann Top Shot Season 3 Winner
Dustin Ellermann Top Shot Season 3 Winner

Each season of Top Shot has it’s strengths and weaknesses. In season 3 the strengths lay in the competitors’ fair play and honesty. The best man won: Dustin Ellermann, a Christian Camp Director, self-taught, he is the poster child for this season’s Top Shot. It’s good to understand both sides of an issue, even one as volatile as gun culture. Read more in Part 1 here.

What are your coping mechanisms? Do you have “out of character” stories about yourself, a family member or friend? Was there a reason they swerved out of their normal pattern of action? How did you feel about what they did?

3 thoughts on “The Reality of Stress”

  1. A ton of your points were very valid how every the one point you missed was that the show was completely rigged. I had left before the elimination vote, over the fact that they gave me a gun that did not work. At the end of the day it was just another TV show made to look like a real deal competition.

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