My love/hate relationship with Top Shot #tbt

Top-Shot-1-Caleb-E

Almost five years ago, I got an email from a friend of mine in the firearms industry. He told me about how History Channel was casting for a new TV show that was going to feature marksmen competing in various challenges to see who was the best “all-around” shooter in the country. At the time, I was an up-and-coming blogger, I’d attended the first ever industry/blogger event hosted by Crimson Trace, ParaUSA, Blackhawk, and Down Range TV at then Blackwater; I was starting to catch more freelance work from the “real” firearms media. I was also (and this is important) bored out of my mind in my daily life – I was working a decently paying but completely unfulfilling job as an insurance agent, commuting 30 minutes in traffic each day. I had become the very thing I swore I’d never be: a desk jockey with a mundane 9 to 5.

I seriously don't even recognize that guy any more.

So of course I applied to be on Top Shot. I never imagined in a million years that they’d like me, or that I’d get flown out to California for an interview, or that the interview would go well and I’d end up with a slot on the show. The experience of being on a reality TV show was surreal – to me at least. Fun fact: for every minute of produced television that you see for shows like Top Shot, there are at least 400 minutes of footage that never made it in to the show. But it never really seemed real, because I was constantly aware of the presence of cameras. Even with that, I enjoyed my time. I was there for a bit over two weeks if memory serves, and I was the 5th person eliminated from the very first season of the show. My goal was simple: don’t do anything on TV that would upset my parents when they saw it, and I accomplished that goal.

Being on Top Shot was an instant boost for my career. There is absolutely no arguing that. The guys on Season 1 had an opportunity because we were the first to really reach out for that brass ring if we wanted it, and I wanted it bad. I didn’t want to be an insurance agent for the rest of my life, I wanted to make a name in the industry, doing what I loved, doing what I was and am still passionate about. It worked. I quit being an insurance agent, and got a contracting gig working for the NRA-ILA. Then, I became a sponsored shooter for Cheaper than Dirt, worked on a project for Down Range TV, and started writing even more. I eventually started working for a start-up company called GunUp, which I’m still with today. In the process I’ve met and lost friends, made and lost money, moved to South Dakota, and generally lived one hell of a great adventure. The past five years have been the five most interesting and exciting years of my life.

It’s safe to say that Top Shot was absolutely good for my career, and that’s why part of me will always love the show and its impact on my life. I’ll also always hate it just a little bit. It’s hard to explain – but there is a part of me, a caricature almost of me, that’s frozen in time, five years ago. This guy:

Top-Shot-1-Caleb-E

Good lord, look at that guy. I barely recognize that guy any more. He’s so young, he doesn’t even have a beard! It’s funny, because that guy…well, he’s really not me any more. He had different goals, a different outlook on life, lived in a different place, and was generally about as different from me today as he was different from me/us when I was 17. But for many people, that’s the only Caleb they’ll ever see – frozen in time as a 27 year old. That’s where the frustration comes from, because as thankful as I am for the doors the show opened for me, having been on a reality show can also taint legitimate accomplishments. The truth is that I’m prouder of making IDPA 5-Gun Master than I am of being on Top Shot, I’m more proud of making A-class in USPSA than being on TS, and I’m much prouder of the things I’ve accomplished in the industry. But Top Shot is always there, always a part of my past, just lurking around the corner for someone to grab at and say “he’s just a reality TV jerk.”

Also, just for a moment I want to address something that really annoys me: On my Top Shot bio, it says that “Other shooters call me the Little Giant.” The produces made that shit up out of whole cloth. I never told them that, and when they sprung it on me, I was like “what? No one ever said that about me.”

Maybe it’s true. Maybe I am just an attention whore who saw a chance to grab for the brass ring. But if that’s the case, then I’m just living the American dream. That’s the thing: if you were in my shoes, and saw a chance to do what you loved, what you’d always wanted to do, wouldn’t you try? Top Shot was great for my career, there’s no question. But the exposure I got from TS would have been worthless if I hadn’t been willing to put in the work to actually get to where I am now.

19 thoughts on “My love/hate relationship with Top Shot #tbt”

  1. Nice….. I still though you were on Jersey Shore and not Top Shot…. Top Shot was a giant boost for your career and it afforded you the chance to do what you love. Understand, we are still going to tease you about it, well since we were never picked for Top Shot… I guess I wasn’t pretty enough… Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks Greg. I genuinely don’t mind the good natured ribbing, that’s to be expected. The stuff that gets under my skin is when people see me and all they see is “that guy from Top Shot, he’s an insurance agent, right?”

  2. Hey, it could have been worse!! You could have ended up casted in Honey Boo-Boo!!!

    And look at it this way, I’m not calling you “Rat Fink” anymore!!

  3. Life is all about Opportunity.. and how we address it. You saw yours, seized it, and made a better way for yourself. Kudos for that, it is what most of the people on the sidelines wish they had the ‘stones’ to do themselves. Do not let their self inflicted paralysis get you down!

    To quote the immortal R Kelly, and others, “Haters gonna Hate”.

  4. I was reading your blog for a year or so before I realized that you were on TS. You’ve made your imprint since then; don’t get hung up on it.

    And frankly, as long as you’re not “that SEAL jerk,” you’re doing fine as a former contestant. 🙂

  5. Been meaning to ask, did that former CIA spook really hate your guts or was it just drama for the TV?

      1. Ok, yeah, him. I somehow mixed him up what he was doing with a guy from Combat Mission or something. Weird!

        1. To answer your original question, yes he actually didn’t like me. There were some pretty impressive rants about me that didn’t make it on TV. I have no idea if he still hates me, I hope that he’s moved on with his life and isn’t still living in the past.

  6. Look, you have grown in many way plus got the girl. You keep moving on and up. Your past has helped you determine your future. Many folks would trade their daily life for yours. Good job and keep up the drive. That is what has made you achieve goals that you have set and keep making. Oh and if it makes you feel better, we just think you are a jerk, not a reality tv jerk. lolol

  7. I will say that I thought your turn in Top Shot showed you as a very good person with a sense of honor and it is one of the reasons I started reading your stuff in the first place. I’m glad that you have made a success of yourself since then as you have more than proved you deserve it.

  8. I’ll never understand people who get pissed off because someone else is doing well. I enjoyed watching you on Top Shot, and I am glad that it opened the doors that got you where you are today. While I might be a little jealous…I’d love to make a life out of shooting…I’d never begrudge anyone else their success. Keep going!

  9. Been reading your blog for a couple of years. Had no idea about TS. You are producing some of the best stuff on the Internet. Keep it up.

  10. To be honest, I hardly remember what you were like on season 1 of Top Shot. It was so long ago, but I remember hearing about the blog somewhere (I can’t remember if it was somewhere on the show or on Facebook or what, but it doesn’t really matter) and I started coming back because it was an interesting one.

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