By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun
2:11 PM EDT, May 25, 2013
Adam Benson is a different kind of weekend warrior.
A former Marine marksman whose career in the military was derailed by a serious motorcycle accident, Benson has turned what he thinks is a natural ability to shoot into potential reality television stardom.
An architectural engineer by training, the 48-year-old Sykesville resident was among 16 to make the cut on History Channel's first season of "Top Shot", and he was brought back earlier this year to participate in the show's fifth edition as one of its All-Stars.
Admittedly, Benson said Friday, "I might have been a last-minute substitute. I got about two weeks' notice."
Benson said he won't tell his wife, Lorie, or their two children, 13-year-old son Bodie and 11-year-old daughter Skylar, or their neighbors and friends the results of the show, which airs its first 2013 episode Wednesday at 10 p.m.
Recalling his debut on the show in 2011, Benson said he became one of the cast's villains because of a confrontation he had with one of the other competitors in a format that is similar to the "Survivor" series.
"Shooters are pretentious, pious and sanctimonious. They get upset if the best shooter doesn't win," he said. "I just made the suggestion, 'Let's vote off one of the good [shooters].' This one little Coast Guard kid ran and told [others still left in the competition]. I went into full Marine battle mode and I went out to destroy him."
Benson ultimately knocked his rival out of the show in a one-on-one shootoff in which they had to shoot at a guillotine rope until it was frayed enough to drop the axe, but he was eliminated one show shy of the final episode, finishing sixth of the 16 who had made the cut from 50 initially picked.
How he got onto "Top Shot" in the first place has an interesting back story.
Benson, who grew up in Parsippany, N.J., and didn't really shoot seriously until he joined the Marines out of high school, put together an audition tape in which he tasered himself.
"Your finger doesn't want to push that button," Benson recalled. "One of the producers in California who were sitting around watching this called me and asked, 'Did you really do it four times?' I was trying to make a tape. If you're going to leave your wife and kid for six weeks, you're playing for real. I'm playing to win."
This season's competition is set up a little differently, Benson said. It's more shooting than reality television shenanigans, featuring four former Top Shot champions among the 16 participants who range in age from 24 to 53, including one female contestant who is a member of the Venezuelan Olympic team and an 11-time National Rifle Association champion.
For Benson, who has won 26 state titles in a variety of shooting competitions, this season is "all about redemption" because he feels he made a "dopey" mistake that cost him a chance at the finals in the first season. The mistake Benson made came because he didn't compensate for the somewhat crooked sight on the rifle he was shooting at the time.
"There's a lot of unfinished business," he said.
The same might be said for Benson's life. After graduating at the top of his class in infantry school in 1986, Benson said he earned an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. But he sustained a broken femur — "it was like Joe Theismann's injury" — and other injuries in a motorcycle crash that was so severe that some thought Benson wouldn't survive.
"They actually called the morgue," he said. "It would have killed any normal person."
Instead of Annapolis, Benson wound up at Penn State, where he graduated in 1992.
He eventually made it down to Maryland and now works as a construction project manager for Cross Street Partners. A few years ago, Benson had switched from shooting competitions to bowhunting, but "Top Shot" has given him a chance to show off his talents.
Among the trick shots Benson said he has pulled off: putting three shots into a nickel from two football fields away; hitting a golf ball off a tee from 100 yards, then splitting the tee itself with his next shot; and hitting an ax from 25 yards away with a Colt 45, with the bullet splitting in two and the fragments popping two separate balloons.
According to the show's publicist, the first "Top Shot" episode of this season will include mastering a Soviet semi-automatic rifle used in the 1941 invasion by the Nazis as well as other weapons while competing on everything from an unstable platform to negotiating a mortar-rigged barbed wire fence as well as hitting a bullseye that is a fraction of an inch from the shooter's face.
Benson has billed himself to the show's producers as "the last American hero" and has been nicknamed "Bam Bam" for his in-your-face style.
As little time as he spends shooting compared to bowhunting, Benson said, "I'm the best shooter with the least effort." He admits that he is "a bit of a ham," which also helped get him an invite to the inagural season of "Top Shot."
"There hasn't been anything meant more for me than a reality television show about guns," he said. "It was a calling."
Benson compares himself to Bruce Jenner, the former Olympic decathlon champion — "before all the plastic surgery" — and a reality television star on "Keeping Up With The Kardashians."
"Shooters are like doctors, there's a specialty for everything," Benson said. "Bruce Jenner couldn't beat someone in the 100-yard dash, but he was good at a lot of different events. I'm the same way with shooting. "
The first time the producers at "Top Shot" called, Benson returned to a local gun range "to get my finger back. It was like cramming for finals." He figured he shot about 1,000 rounds in six weeks. This time, he had even less time to prepare.
Benson said two of the guns used on this season's shows are on Maryland's banned lift "and we won't get to practice." He is passionate about the politics of gun use as well, and he even admits to getting into a little bit of a row with Gov. Martin O'Malley "during a private meeting of the Gun Task Force."
Benson is a strong advocate of the Second Ammendment and thinks politicians are taking stands on it for their own gain, not because they necessarily believe in banning all automatic assault weapons.
"There's a lot of negative publicity, but they also do good things like preserving freedom," he said. "We're using them on a TV show, responsibly. The people on this show are all-American heroes, good guys. Do you know that more people die from peanut allergies every year than from assault rifles?"
The winner of this year's competition will receive $100,000 and a speedboat.
Though filming is complete, Benson won't divulge the results — "Let's see if I survive the first show and we can talk next week," he said — but he said he enjoyed the competition and cameraderie of spending six weeks cooped up in a house an hour north of Los Angeles.
"They take away everything — no radio, no TV, you go into isolation, but you have this bond with 16 Type-A personalities talking about guns, telling crazy stories, cracking jokes," he said. "I even fought a rattlesnake to death. It's not like 'Survivor,' a bunch of high school guys eating berries. There are manly men."
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