Colby Donaldson: bad-ass host of Top Shot

Season three of Top Shot started filming this past weekend, and will debut later this summer: good news, because the History Channel competition series’ second season is still going strong. Last night, it reached the merge–er, individual round–and from its slow-motion explosions to its annoying alliance of roommates led by new villain George, the show is once again delivering watchable challenges and great competition that are interesting even to non-gun enthusiasts.

And it really helps that it’s led by a strong host, former Survivor cast member Colby Donaldson. While he told me last year that he didn’t want to “be a cheap imitation version of [Jeff Probst],” there was a noticeable amount of Probst in him during season one (“come on over, guys”). But now, Colby has come into his own. Sure, he’s Probstian as a host, but it’s not like he’s doing a Jeff Probst imitation (and for the difference, see every knock-off American Idol ever attempted and their faux Seacrests).

Colby has a great combination of stoicism and passion (“holy shit!”, he yelled at the end of one challenge) that both fits perfectly with and helps to establish the tone of the series. And his hosting is tweaked to perfection with a touch of Anderson Cooper on The Mole–he’s the contestants’ friend but one who has established clear boundaries.

Last night, Colby was all but heckling the contestants last night during their 1,000 yard shooting challenge, but simply by observing and commenting on what was happening. Helpful and funny for us, probably frustrating and annoying to the competitors. While he’s expressed mild opinions online, Colby hasn’t turned into an all-out side-taking viewer advocate yet, and for this kind of show, that’s perfectly okay.

Oh, also, he’s a bad-ass. On Twitter, he said that he shot the 1,000 yard target in two attempts–better than many of the competitors.

While Colby has been tweeting live during the episodes, which is potentially problematic, he’s been offering a lot of insight and information, such as the location of the ranch where they film and the proximity of the house to the range. He also said (joked?), “I get fined a buck if I refer to the teams as ‘tribes’ on set!”

Colby may never fully escape the Survivor and Probst comparisons, because they’re his reality TV parents, but he has emerged from their shadow as one of reality TV’s better hosts.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.