Top Shot: An in Depth Interview with Jake Zweig from Top Shot Season 3

The Doctor Chris Mueller@@BR_DoctorFeatured ColumnistSeptember 27, 2011

For those of you who don't know, Top Shot is a competitive shooting reality show on The History Channel. they showcase marksmen from all walks of life participating in some of the craziest competitions involving guns you will ever see.

Each week someone gets eliminated until only one person claims the $100,000 prize and the title of Top Shot.

This season has featured some of the worlds biggest guns like the Gatling gun to the most high tech like the corner shot, to things as primitive as a rock, yes I said rock.

This year there has been one member of the house who has garnered as much attention for his shooting as he has for his personality.

Jake Zweig has become the focal point of Top Shot this season. He has been at the center of controversy involving players on both teams. I wanted to talk with Jake to see if this was the real Jake Zweig or if what we were seeing was a manufactured TV character created through editing.

Jake agreed to talk to me and this past Wednesday we talked in depth about his life, his time in the Navy Seals, coaching college football and his time on Top Shot. My goal was to find out what the man was really like, and what I found was someone who was not at all what I expected.

Jake Zweig has led one of the most interesting lives of anyone I have ever encountered, and while talking to him he proved every preconceived notion I had from watching the show to be wrong. So without further delay, here is my interview with Jake Zweig.

Thanks for talking with me Jake, so give me the quick version of your life story

I grew up in a small town, Steilacoom, just West of Fort Lewis, Washington, which is the 3rd largest army base in the world. As a young kid I spent most of my time shooting BB guns in the backyard and time in a 12 foot aluminum boat fishing in front of my house. My dad built me a little bike trailer to carry my boat down to the boat ramp, so I spent about 50% of my time shooting BB guns and bow and arrow and the other 50 fishing in my boat. About sixth grade I started sports pretty heavily. I started wrestling and playing Football.

Around that time in sixth grade I won the Washington State science fair three years in a row in 7h 8th and 9th grade, so by that time I had a full scholarship to Washington university from beating everyone in the engineering part of the science fair three years in a row including all the high school seniors. I also won a league wrestling championship during middle school.

Around high school I started going through a transformation in my body and went from 145 to about 115. I started going to wrestling camps and getting good at wrestling. It was around this time that I got accepted to the Naval Academy as a freshman with a pre-candidate questionnaire and a recommendation from a 4 star admiral and a 2 star general.

I won a State Championship my Senior year in Wrestling and started in the state Football Championship. After that I had a choice between the Naval academy, West Point and a few other Division 1 colleges and it came down to West Point had a dreary building so I chose the Naval Academy.

I went to the Navy prep school because I came out of High School not really knowing how to read to well. So the first week at Prep School Jim Golladay who was the first Navy seal to graduate from the academy received the bronze star for his actions in Panama. I didn't know what a Navy Seal was but I knew about Army Rangers and Green Berets and that's all what I wanted to do growing up next to Fort Lewis,All the people I knew and my friends parents were in the Army. So that's what started me down that path.

I will say this, I am not a very good conformist, so to say I didn't fit in well at the naval academy is an understatement, I tried to conform but I am just not a good conformist. I played football there and wrestled til my senior year.

I didn't get a Seal billet out of the Naval academy because I had been in a little trouble there, nothing big, just conduct problems. They said once you get your qualification on a ship we will pick you up, so I went there and got qualified in six months. It normally takes 18-24 months but I was working 100-110 hour weeks and eventually I got my Surface Warfare Officer Pin, and got picked up on the first lateral transfer board to Seal teams. I spent another year on the ship and reported to Seal training in 1997.

So what inspired you to go for the Seal Team?

It wasn't really that it was an inspiration, it was that they were doing the things I wanted to do, traveling the world. I wasn't doing it for the glory, I had the unfortunate chance to get shot in high school so I wasn't oblivious to gunfights. 

Wait, you got shot in High School? Where?

In my hip

Does it give you trouble walking or running?

No, but the bullet is still in my hip, the doctors couldn't get it out. I went to the Navy academy the month after it happened.

It didn't affect you in training?

No, I was out running the next day, it didn't hit me in any important areas.

So why did you decide not to do Military as a career?

It was interesting, Being a Seal is a job that looks great from the outside but you have to give up your whole life to be a Navy Seal, the Divorce rate is 98% in the Seal teams so the people who tell you that you can have a family and be a seal don't know what they are talking about. It came down to I didn't think we were going to War and I wanted to have a family so I decided to go to Michigan and get my Masters in Business Administration. I am still involved with Omega Psi Phi my fraternity from the Naval Academy and what I will do is take these helmets they get and paint them up with their insignias and colors and then send it back to them.

When did you get out of the Seals?

I got out in May of 2001, right before everything started.

So what got you into coaching football when you had gotten an MBA in business?

My old roommate tells me I have been talking about my two goals since we were in the Naval Academy, I said I was going to be a National Championship Head Coach and then go on to be a US Senator. I don't remember that too much but he's smarter than I am so I take his word for it.

I worked at a company where we had these life meeting with your boss every quarter and I was making six figures and I was working towards coaching but it was really hard to get in. I spent a full year just trying to figure out how to get a job in Coaching.

So I sat down on a Saturday and said how can I build a relationship with these coaches? So I went with the brute force method and I sat on the sidelines of all the spring trainings and all the practices during the 2004 season in Maryland in a suit and tie. I would go work my nine hour day and then take a train up to college park. Some days people would talk to me and some days they wouldn't and after a few months I had a good relationship with some of the coaches. I would run around the field with the defensive coordinator and stuff like that.

At the end of the year they had an assistant coach position open up and I took it. I went from making six figures a year to making around seven thousand a year.

As much as I want to think I am driven by money, when I was younger I was very driven by money, but I realized money doesn't have any importance in how happy you are in life, as long as you can pay your bills excess money doesn't really do anything for you.

My fiance knew I hated my job and she said go do it, so I did it.

Do you think you will ever move into the NFL?

It's funny, in this business you probably only control about 15% of what you do and where you're going, it all depends on who's moving and what's open. I can't get a job in the NFL if the guy I want to work for never needs a new coach. I might end up in the NFL, it's not really up to me I just have to drive forward with what I want to achieve. I have changed my goals a bit and the NFL is in those goals. But where I do it is not as important is getting it done to me.

You just started with Bryant University, how's that?

I am working for my prep school head coach from 21 years ago so that's great. Marty Fine is Awesome, this is a guy who I have known for 21 years who has had my back , and gives me great advice and he is one of the top people helping me in my coaching career. I don't care who you are, you don't do anything by yourself, you usually need a ton of help to get where you're going.

So now that you have competed in a professional marksmanship competition do you think you will do anymore?

No, absolutely not. I have never been a big competitive shooting guy, in fact I have never been in a shooting competition before Top Shot. I tend to look at things for what they are and the competitive shooting world is a very small world so sometimes you might only be shooting against six or seven guys for your division at nationals. It doesn't have a lot of intrigue for me.

So how often do you shoot in your day to day life?

When I was in New Hampshire I would probably shoot every other day, I could shoot out my back yard in New Hampshire, but now that I am up in Rhode Island at Bryant I can't do that. I haven't shot a gun since the 4th of July. I can shoot, but it is not as big a part of my life as it was when I was growing up.

So do you still own many guns or do you usually use the guns at the range?

I own some firearms, I have some pistols, some survival weapons, some rifles, that kind of stuff. I have a number of guns, but it's less than ten. Every gun has a purpose.

I got a five dollar shotgun from a garage sale that I have had for about ten years. It was a side by side Remington 16 gauge shotgun all rusted out sitting in this barrel the guy had and I asked how much he wanted and he said 5 bucks, so I cleaned it up and it works great.

I want to talk about your art a little bit, so you think it would surprise people that you are an artist?

Yeah, it always surprises people. I started when I was in 2th grade in Washington. Living in Washington there is a couple huge factors growing up, Art and science are really big in Washington so every school has an art studio.

My father, who has since passed, was a big artist so it's in my genes. People who meet me don't usually know me that well, so it surprises them to find out I have this capacity.

What is your favorite thing you have made

When I was in fifth grade I made this cookie jar. It was tall and had this nice top on it, but I made the opening too small so you couldn't really get your hand in there. A few months later my grandfather, who had basically raised me passed away and my grandmother came over one day a few weeks later for dinner, and she asked if she could use it for my grandfather's urn for his ashes. Little did I know three months earlier when I was making it that it would be my Grandfather's urn. So I gave it to my grandmother, she put my grand father in there and we got to throw his ashes out of a plane over Washington. It was a little different but that's my favorite piece I have made.

Do you ever try and sell your artwork or is it for personal pleasure that you do it?

Yeah, I've sold some of the helmets I have made, and I have sold some ceramic stuff too. It depends, I have a couple pieces that I am making right now to hang on the wall that are very ornamental. I have sold some stuff but there is no way I could supplement my income with art. I sell some stuff but it is not something I do just to sell.

Do you ever still tinker around with science stuff?

Yeah, I am always doing something with science. I have been working on replicating some of Tesla's experiments from the early 1900's involving rotating magnetic fields, using AC power to make solid state magnets that rotate in six axises. I built a machine that can separate Hydrogen from Oxygen using electrolysis for my 1963 Galaxy to boost it's gas mileage. Science is always there somehow.

Last summer I built an incubator with a self regulating temperature gauge and hatched 19 snapping turtles from the mom I found in my driveway. All my players at New Hampshire got Snapping turtles, and when I left NH last year we released them back into the wild. So yeah I always have something going on with science.

Last personal question, Do you have any kids?

I have my first kid arriving in November.

Congratulations. So let's move into the Top Shot stuff, my first question, is Colby that loud in person?

(Laughs) No, Colby is cool. When we are up there shooting you can't really hear him that much even though he's only like ten feet away. We have earplugs in and the show uses really good mics so they pick up everything he says. There is like 17 mics of the best quality around there so they pick up everything. If you weren't shooting you could hear him though. When your on the bench he's no more than ten feet away.

So were you a fan of the first two seasons?

Yeah, I liked the first two seasons of Top Shot, I though it was a cool opportunity to go on and shoot guns.

So what pushed you to try out for season three?

I sent them a message saying I was a good shot, Navy Seal and Football Coach and I wanted to come on there and destroy the competition on their show. I originally wanted to be on season 2 but it was right in the middle of coaching season, so after they got done shooting season 2 I got the call to come out and try out for the show.

So this didn't affect your coaching schedule?

Well I had just left NH and had a few moths after filming ended to be with my wife and get my house in order, then I got the call about this job. So it all worked out just fine

What was it like the first day to find out teams were chosen based on the winners and losers from the first competition?

I thought it was funny actually because to me that would be the worst way to divide up a team. I would have to be on the winning team.

So what were your expectations going into the show?

My expectation was that it was a competition. You quickly find out that when TV is involved it is more of a TV show than a competition.

So you think Editing makes a big difference?

Absolutely editing makes a difference. You only get to see 42 minutes each week out of a 43 hour of filming.

A few of the course have been designed after military training courses, did that give you an advantage?

Yeah, it gave me an advantage, obstacle course didn't give me an advantage but things like the logs. So the first episode I think we had an advantage. I think it made a difference having me and Mike Hughes having both done training and sort of leading the team. We got our order down and who was going to shoot when. All the little things that allowed us to not lose a competition made the difference. It's funny because the first few episodes you see the red team laughing at us practicing and then they started doing it behind our backs.

So what has been your favorite competition so far that we have seen?

I don't know If I had one

What about least favorite?

The 1875 pistol. I had taught myself a certain way to shoot a pistol and I had to adjust my style

If you took your name out of the mix who would you say is the best shooter in the house from what you saw?

Probably Jarrett, Then Dustin, Then probably Gary, With Mike Hughes being in there somewhere. There were some cats on there who just couldn't shoot.

We were trying to keep Michael Marelli around by talking to the Red team about how good he was and what a great shooter he was so the Red team wouldn't vote him off, when really he didn't hit much of anything. In fact I gave him some tips on the Gatling gun prior to his elimination challenge just to try and keep him around.

So did you ever get along with Michael during the show or was it pretty tense the whole time?

There was no tension between me and Michael. He was the house clown and it was all me giving him Sh*t, it was never him giving me any. He might have been tense a little bit, but it wasn't a two way street

They showed him getting upset when you came back from Elimination, how did that make you feel?

It was kind of funny, there was the whole chalk thing on the house and I signed my last name on it prior to the elimination challenge I just came back from last week on the show.

So who did you get along with best?

Paul, the guy I sent home, I got along with him pretty well, Billy was awesome, Jarrett was cool too. Mike Hughes and I got along, I pretty much got along with everybody except Sara who went home early and Dustin.

How did being cut off from the outside world affect you?

It sucked, you don't have any books, Internet or phone. You're not allowed to leave the house so it was a lot of working out, a lot of wasting time. I wish I could have brought like 100 books, I would have been a lot better off.

Did you keep in touch with anybody?

I keep in touch with a lot of them. I talked to Mike Hughes Today, I talked to Jarrett Grimes last night, I just had dinner with Pauly about two weeks ago when I drove through Jersey. Mike Marelli actually hit me up on Facebook the other day.

So a lot of the tension on the show wasn't as bad as it seemed?

It depends. When they showed me getting voted into elimination on some hogwash I made it seem like I was a lunatic, but that was all calculated. I wanted to shake up the house, I wasn't going to be like Kelly from season 1 or Jamie from Season 2 where they just kept voting me into elimination because they don't like me. I wanted them to think if they voted me into elimination “Do I really want to deal with this”. A lot of these guys had never been on TV before, there wasn't any TV glamor going for me, but some of them would do what they had to do to stay on TV. I wanted to come on here and up my exposure in Football so the last thing I was going to do was sit there and not say anything. They would do there interviews and not say anything and they wouldn't have anything to use and put them on TV.

For the most part I got along with most of them though. I didn't get along with everybody but that's just how it is.

Some people have been drawing comparisons to you and George from season 2, is that a fair comparison?

Yeah, that's a fair comparison. We have similar background and he saw through the BS like I did.

Last week you got to work with Iain Harrison from season 1, how was that?

It was cool, Iain gave me some tips while we were out there. He told me I needed to treat this like SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape) school. He helped me through a tough spot on the show, he helped me get through some of the BS that was going on.

What about Jerry Miculek, he is a legend in the shooting world and you got to train with him, how was that?

I would say Jerry was the coolest trainer we had because he really seemed to know what he was talking about. That was his gun, he designed it, so it was interesting. He is a cool dude, he has done a whole lot and Cliff is the only person who has beaten him in the last fifteen years. So it was a surprise to see Michael pick Cliff to go against.

Last week you guys said you didn't have a game plan going into the challenge, do you think it contributed to the loss?

Absolutely. It was frustrating but at some point my team decided not to practice anymore and it affected the whole team. Me and Mike Hughes wanted to practice but no one wanted to so no one practiced and we had a little bit of a game plan but not as much as the previous weeks.

We only have a limited number of rounds in practice so when Mike Hughes wanted to pop off more shots I wasn't going to have it. You only see the bad stuff so I am the villain and I am fine with that.

Now Billy had to leave the competition due to his wife's pregnancy having some issues, how did that affect the team going into the challenge?

It's weird, we talked about it. Billy got the call shortly after Paul went home and it probably affected the team to lose two people that close together. Luckily Billy went home and had a baby boy and he and his wife are doing good.

That's good to hear that they are doing well. Now, you made the corner shot challenge look easy, did it surprise you to win by a large margin?

I though it would probably be a 4 or 5 second difference, but I picked Pauly because he is a cop and cops train to only use their gun if they absolutely have to. They only squeeze when they are absolutely sure so it has a tendency to make cops more methodical when they shoot, and I picked Paul for that reason because I thought I had a better chance against him than Billy.

I think the hat I had on made it easier to see the screen because the sun made it really hard to get your sights on that gun

What did you spend your bass pro shop gift card on?

I haven't even spent it yet, but I will probably buy a Remington 700 or something like that.

Were there any eliminations that looked so fun that you were jealous you didn't get to compete in them?

Nope, my goal was not to go to elimination, I have sawed down trees with M60's and used explosives to blow stuff up so they didn't have anything on there that I haven't gotten to do before.

You mentioned in the last episode having lost part of a pinky finger in an accident, how did you end up on the station that used a pinky to fire a gun?

(Laughs) Obviously I didn't end up shooting it that well because I didn't hit the first target and sat back down

Was it a team decision or did you volunteer for that station?

Well Dustin and Alex were shooting really well on the rifle, and the only person who was going to do something crazy like a blindfolded shot was Mike. So I knew I wasn't the best person for the pinky shot but I wasn't going to go and jump on a rifle because it suited me better so I felt to help the team out I would bite the bullet. As soon as I squeezed the trigger I knew I wasn't going to hit the target, but it was all very calculated.

Did you think you were going back to elimination after missing the shot

Honestly I didn't think we were going to lose that challenge. I though it could come down to the end but when you could see Cliff start shooting and his mechanics were all wrong I knew we were going to win.

When Cliff came back from elimination and you knew Michael Marelli was gone how did you feel?

I was a little sad, I say that because Mike Marelli basically wore a blue jersey the whole show, it felt like we lost our inside guy in the red team.

Do you feel that you have been portrayed accurately on the show.

Well you only get to see ten percent of what is going on so that is not me or who I am, but a lot of what you see was calculated. I talked the first few episodes about psychological warfare and I tried to use that the whole time I was on the show. But no, that's not me you are seeing on the show.

Do you read what people have been writing about you on-line?

I am on the show for exposure so I have to know what's being said about me. I read all the stuff. I have got a friend who made a comment to me about how a comment I posted on the Top Shot page got 8 times the amount of comments that they normally get.

There was a comment on there saying “If you could say one thing to Jake what would it be?” and it had like 800 responses when they typically get 100.

What were some of the comments?

All sorts of craziness. It's a bunch of armchair quarterbacks. I understand where they are coming from, but they are gonna have the audacity to talk about my Navy Seal career so they don't mean anything to me, they have no effect on me.

Would you have changed anything about your time on the show?

No, not at all.

Can you give us any details on what's coming up?

Well you saw in the preview we have the bow and arrow challenge next week, and I have been shooting along bow since I was five so I will let you see how I did. I have four bows so I shoot a bow about as much as I shoot guns. I shot a bow and arrow every day when I was a kid so you don't want to be standing in front of me with a bow and arrow. There are stereotypes and I try to break those down. It's the same thing with my Art, the science and my business degree.

If you could pick one thing the viewers of the show could remember you by what would it be

Oh man they're gonna remember me being the asshole. I don't really care how they remember me as long as they remember me. It's better to be remembered than forgotten.

Can you leave us with a Jake Zweig quote?

“I have the innate ability to do the impossible consistently”

After we had finished the questions, Jake and I talked for a little while longer and he shared another story with me that he said I could share about his Naval Academy Ring.

So while I was on your face book I saw a black ring, what was that?

I was at the naval academy and I wanted a ring different from anybody else's, and in true fashion I wanted things my way. I wanted an all black ring with a skull and cross bones. In the skull the eye has a diamond and there is a knife in his mouth with the cross bones below.

I went to the jeweler in town and paid for the custom artwork in the ring. When the Commandant wanted to see it I told him I had lost it because as soon as I got it I sent it home to Washington because I knew there would be hell to pay for it, so no one ever saw until after I was out of the academy

It's funny too because every once in awhile one of my mentees at the Naval Academy will catch wind of an all black naval academy ring and it's an urban legend out there that it exists, when really it's just the ring I had made.


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