By Tom McHale
You might remember him from his Top Shot Season Four victory.
If you read on, you’ll also learn that he won the annual Professional Outdoor Media Association’s Top Chef title. Seems he’s just an all-around top guy, and one of the nicest folks you’ll ever meet. Oh, one more thing, he’s now a published author with the recent release of his new book Shoot to Win.
I thought it would be fun to con Chris into an interview so you can get to know him a little better and learn what a great ambassador he is for the shooting sports.
Don’t tell him this is an interview, I told him my Mom wanted some background info before inviting him over for a meatloaf supper…
AmmoLand: We all know that shows like Top Shot are heavily edited, so we want some insider scoop about some of the stuff that happened that didn’t make the final edit cuts. Since all the competitors share a house, you must know who sleeps with a security blankie. Fess up, who?
Chris Cheng: Tom, I told you about my blankie in confidence. Will I ever be able to trust you again? Buy me a bourbon the next time we hang out and the answer is yes.
There are two main things that I think are worth mentioning. First, viewers got to watch all the exciting parts when the reality was we were sitting around waiting for stuff to happen most of the time. The entire competition took six weeks and we were cooped up in the Top Shot house the entire time. We'd wake up, get ready, and then it would just be a waiting game to find out when we'd be going down to the Top Shot range or take care of interviews. The moments where we'd actually get to shoot something were of course very exciting because we'd be deprived of it for so many hours.
Second, one of the most common questions I get asked is about the host, Colby Donaldson, and if he's actually a nice guy or not. He's a really down to earth guy who enjoyed being around firearms and the competition. And yes, his teeth really are that white in real life.
I know I said there were two things, but I've had a few glasses of wine tonight so there's a third thing. We ate really well. I'm a foodie, and one of the things I was most concerned about living in the Top Shot house was not knowing what our food situation was going to be like. If we had to eat instant ramen and cans of soup for six weeks, that would have crippled me in the competition.
However, every 3-4 days we'd get a restock of fresh meat, veggies, candy, and other food and we'd spend a lot of time cooking during the downtime. I made an awesome garlic butter chicken and introduced a number of competitors to the world of sriracha and other hot sauces. We had rib eye steaks, pork chops, and fish done up all sorts of ways. We would eat dinner every night as a group and spend countless hours staring at the stars and bonding as friends.
AmmoLand: So in addition to the money, which you probably don’t care much about, your Top Shot Champ prize was becoming a sponsored shooter for Bass Pro Shops. How many bass have you shot since signing on? Largemouth or Smallmouth? And did you mount them?
Chris: The only thing I didn't care about the $100,000 cash prize was all the taxes the government took from it. But, as they say, money spends but the title is forever. Winning Top Shot was an experience that could only happen in America. I was a self-taught amateur with no formal shooting experience who quit Google to become a pro shooter. I was cast for an internationally televised shooting competition that's filmed in Hollywood and beat out 17 highly experienced shooters. I trained really hard and my efforts paid off. It's my hope to inspire others to dream big, work hard and go win. I'm living the American Dream and have the gun community to thank for making a show like Top Shot possible.
Speaking of shooting fish, I've been dying to go bow fishing at night. Somewhere in the Ozarks would be nice. The only fish I have mounted is above my doorway, but it's one of those annoying motion sensor Big Mouth Billy Bass singing fish. I think I might shoot it to get it to stop singing.
AmmoLand: Hey, speaking of music, the word is that you are going to be making some of those fancy musical shooting target videos. How does one put in a request for, oh, let’s say, Panama by Van Halen?
Chris: Last year this awesome company called Musical Targets made a YouTube video of the Star Spangled Banner being played on their target system with a Ruger 10/22. It was one of the coolest things I saw in 2014. I recently received a set of the Musical Target plates and so I'm planning to shoot a bunch of videos. I plan on playing a mix of patriotic songs, children's songs (think: Frozen and other cartoons), and Top 40 hits (think: David Guetta, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Maroon 5).
Jukebox requests can be accepted by mailing me a quarter, sending me BitCoin, or by letting me know on Facebook (Facebook.com/TopShotChris) or YouTube (YouTube.com/TopShotChris).
AmmoLand: That sounds pretty cool, Chris! (See what I did there?) Whatever you do, don’t record any Milli Vanilli songs, lest people think you are faking it! You just published a book! Congratulations on “Shoot to Win”! All the great authors have strange ways of getting their writing inspiration. Hemingway and I are known for hanging out in bars and drinking rum. How do you get inspired?
Chris: When I started writing “Shoot to Win” I had this romantic vision of writing the book in the snowy mountains. Kinda like the movie Misery except minus getting hobbled by Kathy Bates. I still have two good ankles after spending an entire winter in Lake Tahoe snowboarding, sleeping, eating great food, drinking beer, wine, and whiskey, and writing in between all of that.
My book for new shooters has been highly acclaimed and it's been so great helping bring in new faces to the shooting sports. Speaking of which, if anyone wants to snag a copy for themselves, a friend, or a loved one, head on over to Amazon.
AmmoLand: I’ve noticed that you’re really passionate about teaching other people how to shoot. Aren’t you working with the National Shooting Sports Foundation on educational projects too?
Chris: Yes! I partnered with the National Shooting Sports Foundation and created 30-40 free pistol, shotgun, and rifle instructional videos for beginners to compliment “Shoot to Win.” To see these videos head on over to this NSSF YouTube playlist.
AmmoLand: So what’s your issue with being the “Top Guy”? I first saw you on Top Shot, but next thing I know, I bump into you at the Professional Outdoor Media Association where you’re competing in the outdoor cooking Top Chef competition. You won that too. Are you just super competitive? A total cutthroat? What’s the deal with having to win everything. Can’t you just give the other kids a chance to win stuff too?
Chris: I grew up with 15 friends in my neighborhood and we were all pretty competitive. It started off as things like who could throw a rock or baseball the farthest, who could launch off a ramp the highest, hit the most home runs, have the fastest R/C car, and a litany of other things. If I'm going to compete for real, I'm the type of person who intends to crush you, but I'll do it with a smile on my face. I played a lot of baseball, so manners and sportsmanship are a big part of my demeanor. I also hate losing more than I like winning.
Now, as for “giving other kids a chance to win stuff too” — this almost sounds like participation trophies which I absolutely despise. Kids who grow up being rewarded at every turn simply just for participating run the risk of growing up as entitled brats. One of my friends threw his daughter's participation trophy in the trash and took a picture of it for Facebook. I wrote a blog post on this at http://www.topshotchris.com/blog/suck-it-participation-trophies. I couldn't have been more proud of my friend.
It's critical to learn about working hard for something you really want and reaping the rewards. It's also important to just get completely crushed even though you tried your absolute best.
It teaches you resilience and perseverance, and when you get knocked on your butt you have to stop crying about it and pick yourself up. Feeling sorry for yourself is just a huge waste of time.
AmmoLand: Thanks Chris! We'll see you at the next three gun event. In the meantime, you can learn more about what Chris Cheng is up to at his website.
Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.