Phil, a video producer from Milford, first appeared on Top Shot Season 3, where he made it as far as the individual portion of the competition. In this exclusive interview with the Michigan Firearms Examiner Phil talks about how he prepared for the All Star season, what getting a second chance meant to him, and his experiences on the show.
Rob: Between your appearance on Season 3 and getting called to do All Stars, how has being on Top Shot affected your life?
Phil: After being on season three Top Shot I have done a few more firearms related videos but other than that it's been business as usual.
Rob: After you were eliminated in your season did you ever think you’d have another chance on Top Shot?
Phil: I never even entertained the idea of being back on Top Shot because I figured the show was too young to do a reunion season. But, when I heard they were doing one, I was hoping to get another shot and the rest in history.
Rob: What did getting that second chance mean to you?
Phil: Getting a second chance allowed me to approach this season with a different mindset and have more fun and not worry about being eliminated so much. I also felt like I left a lot on the table in season three. I beat myself by making a mistake and wanted to try it again and see how far I would have made it if I could complete a flawless run.
Rob: You got married after Season 3. What did your wife think about you going away to film another season when they contacted you about appearing on All Stars?
Phil: My wife was super-supportive of me heading back out for Top Shot. She told me, "Look you're getting X amount of dollars for Per Diem, take that amount out of our account and buy ammo and training supplies. If you lose it's as if nothing happened and if you win our investment will pay off ten fold.” Not to mention she ran the business while I was gone and that’s a huge relief to know you can leave and everything is taken care of, so all I had to do was focus on shooting.
Rob: How much time did you have from when they contacted you to see if you’d appear on All Stars and when you had to report for shooting?
Phil: I had a little over a month from first contact till I left for the show. That gave me ample time to brush up on my skills and hone some skills that needed some work.
Rob: Did you do anything specific to prepare this time?
Phil: I shot a lot of pistols this time before I left. I also went up north and did a long 36-hour training cycle that involved running workouts and every kind of shooting imaginable. And, while at the time I thought, “This is kind of stupid and really isn't going to do much,” it turned out to be a huge mental boost during the competition because no matter what the challenge was it wasn't going to come close to as hard as I worked that weekend.
Rob: What was your overall strategy throughout the season? Did it change from what you thought going in or stay pretty much the same?
Phil: With out the voting this time any strategy you had to fly under the radar went out the window pretty quick. But my main goal was to really focus on "shooting" and as weird as that may sound, it's extremely easy to lose sight of the big picture and fall into TV land a little bit and you really have to focus on the challenges one day at a time.
Rob: How many people in the house did you know going in? Was it any different competing against people you knew before the season?
Phil: The only guys I knew were Gary and Alex from season three but everyone in the house was welcoming and a great pleasure to be around from the start. That is awesome because if you got eliminated there was no bad blood or animosity towards one another. It was great sportsmanship all the way through.
Rob: Who were your best friends in the house?
Phil: I hung out with pretty much everyone throughout this season but I did spend a lot of time with Pete, Jamie and Joe. While most of the other guys would go to bed around 10 we would stay up and swim in the pool or play cards till 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning. I bunked with Gary who went to bed rather early and I'm sure he wasn't too happy about that so I'll apologize here, “Sorry Gary.”
Rob: You guys did your own cooking, who was the best cook in the house?
Phil: Gunny and Chris were both awesome cooks and we ate great this time. Even when we were short on food Gunny could throw something together out of nothing.
Rob: Who did you see as the most dangerous competitor?
Phil: This being an all-star season, I thought everyone was dangerous as a competitor in their own way. Everyone knew what to expect from the competition and had been out shooting for a year or more since their last appearance so the level of competition was extremely high. Some of the early favorites were knocked out by shooters who didn't specialize in shooting styles that were actually featured in the elimination challenge, so right away you could tell everyone raised the bar since their last appearance.
Rob: Who surprised you the most, performance wise?
Phil: I honestly wasn't surprised by anyone. As with all seasons of Top Shot, people bring their best game to the table.
Rob: Who were you saddest to see go?
Phil: It was hard to see Alex, Jamie, Joe, Pete and Gary go. I had gotten extremely close with Joe, Jamie and Pete and Gary. Alex and I were the season three returnees so you do feel a little more connected to those guys. In all honesty with the level of sportsmanship this year you really didn't want to see anyone go home.
Rob: Let’s talk about the challenges now. What went wrong with the shotgun challenge with the steel plates and clay birds that got you sent to elimination?
Phil: During the shotgun challenge Chris and I did fine as far as communication and movement was concerned, we just weren't capitalizing on the shots when we could. We struggled a little bit in the beginning and hit our rhythm a little too late.
Rob: Your strategy for that elimination with the crossbow was to master reloading quickly and correctly. How much did that pay off for you in the final elimination challenge?
Phil: Focusing on the reload for the crossbow helped out immensely during the finale because loading the bow was the hardest part of that stage. After shooting the original elimination challenge there was a technique to lead the targets and once I had that figured out it was all about loading.
Rob: What was it like to realize you were in the Final Four?
Phil: Once I made the final four I was just happy to have accomplished the goal I set before leaving for All Stars and everything after that was just an added bonus.
Rob: As Colby said, you “dominated” the obstacle course challenge with the AK-47. What was your strategy for that?
Phil: My strategy for the AK47 challenge was like what Chris said in his interview. We needed to have explosive power going into the obstacles and slow down with weapon manipulation and shooting. I practiced reloads with every rifle I have and spent a substantial amount of time working with my AK before leaving and it definitely paid off.
Rob: How much momentum did that victory give you for the next challenge?
Phil: It's great to win a challenge but with Top Shot we had no idea what was coming up. So I was able to ride the momentum for a little bit until I knew the next challenge was.
Rob: In the second challenge on the hill, why did you chose to load two rounds in all the weapons after watching Chris clear the challenge with only loading one shot per weapon? Weren’t you concerned about the extra time it would take?
Phil: The hill climb challenge I decided to load two rounds even after watching Chris run the course clean, because I knew how long it would take me if I'd missed and had to reload the guns. I figured I could use my speed to make up for lost time I spent loading two rounds. Fortunately I was able to hit each target in one shot and was safe from elimination immediately, which was a huge relief.
Rob: Overall, one of your strengths seemed to be your athleticism. That really came through on those last few challenges. How much of your victory do you attribute to your pure marksmanship skills, and ability to work with different weapons, and how much to your relative youth, fitness level, and speed?
Phil: As far as athleticism is concerned for the last few challenges I feel like it was a buffer more than a huge advantage, because everyone still has to make the shots. Being able to get to each stage faster aloud me to take a little more time loading and setting up for my next shot. I feel like it was more metal for me, because I was able to focus more on shooting and less on the actual courses.
Rob: That last night what did you guys talk about with the previous winners?
Phil: When they brought in the previous winners we sat around and talked about their finales and how the All Star season had unfolded up till that point. They are great guys and a lot of fun.
Rob: Let’s talk about the last challenge: What did you think of the weapon selection and stages? Were there any that worried you going in?
Phil: The finale had some weapons that I was extremely glad to see and, other than the cannon, I was satisfied with the rest of the weapons selection. I was worried about the cannon after hearing the whole loading procedure from Adam after he used it in the elimination challenge. Other than that I had used all the weapons in other challenges or in my own free time training at home.
Rob: How did you maintain your composure when Chris caught up, and then passed you, on the plate rack with the Schofield revolver?
Phil: When Chris caught up in the finale I was worried because I was struggling with the plate racks pretty bad at that point. The Schofield had a horrible hold over for some reason. I had to aim about 2 o’clock six inches high. With no backer on the plate racks we were actually aiming out in dead space. I had no idea how long I would be there shooting at those plates. I think I had to shoot the bottom plate rack five times through before I shot a clean run.
Rob: On the very last challenge did they give you any training on the Hotchkiss Mountain Gun beforehand? You’d never fired it on-screen though the season and I don’t remember it in your season.
Phil: We had seven rounds with the cannon before the final challenge so we knew all the procedures of loading and cleaning the Hotchkiss. But, during that practice I didn't hit the target once so I was extremely worried about that final station. I was able to do it one shot but I thought there was no way in Hell I was hitting that so fast. I was very fortunate I had a lead at that point.
Rob: What was up with forgetting to load the projectile on the cannon at the very end?
Phil: When we were briefed on the final challenge, they said everything is going to be loaded and once we ran the guns dry we were responsible for reloading them. At some point before we started the finale I guess we were told the cannon wouldn't be loaded. I was too busy running the challenge over in my head and missed that very important detail. Fortunately, it didn’t affect the outcome.
Rob: Aside from the money, and the prizes, what was the best part of being on the Top Shot All Stars?
Phil: The best part of winning has to be the fact that I left nothing on the table this time. I felt horrible after season 3 and all I wanted was to give this season my best shot and I did. The outcome was better than I could have asked for.
Read Phil's interviews from Season 3.