With another season of Top Shot under our (ammo) belts, it’s clear that this was one exciting season – although Top Shot never disappoints. And I think the message is clear from the past two seasons that self-taught civilians really do have a chance at winning it all – so congratulations to IT professional, Chris Cheng, History’s Top Shot for Season 4.
But there was one contestant this year who shot her way to stardom and established many firsts for the show: first female contestant to make it to the individual portion of the show – meaning the first woman to wear a green shirt; the first Hispanic competitor; the first competitor to have two (or more) nicknames – “The Latin Assassin Queen” (thanks to Tim Trefren) and “The Latin Ice Queen” (thanks to pretty much everyone, according to Gabby); and the first woman to get benched for being considered too great a threat to the opposing team in a challenge.
I’m speaking, of course, of Gabriela “Gabby” Franco, one of the longest-lasting female competitors in any Top Shot season thus far. And it’s one thing for friends, family, and fans to sing the praises of someone they know and love, but when someone’s competitors do the same, you know you have a quality individual at the core of it all.
Gabby Franco is obviously such a person, based on the opinions of her fellow competitors, which you will read below; and she represented herself, and all female shooters, this season with skill and grace.
Her entry into the shooting world began a bit more humbly, though, and she credits her family with guiding and nurturing her along the way.
“I started shooting at the age of 11, when my father took me to the range (he was getting his [concealed weapons permit]),” Gabby explained. ”He realized that there was a Junior shooting team. My two sisters and I became the shooting team of my State (Lara) in Venezuela. My dad is a hunter and loved shooting, as well as my brother. My mother, due to her back problems, was never into firearms; however, she has been an incredible support to all of us. She doesn’t shoot, but she was always involved in our shooting activities.”
Those activities earned Gabby a spot on the Venezuelan Olympic shooting team, as well as in many other competitions, prior to her decision to make the USA her home.
“I came to the USA [in] 2002, after knowing I could get my Permanent Resident card due to my extensive curriculum,” Gabby explained. “My whole family is in Venezuela and they visit me at least once a year. Unfortunately, there are a lot of restrictions in Venezuela regarding firearms. Laws pretty much prohibit you from owning one, and sometimes it is very difficult to get the permit to own it.”
Having the freedom to practice her hobby and profession as she chooses is one thing Gabby enjoys about living in the United States. She explained the difficulties fellow shooters face in Venezuela today by saying, “[The] government has controlled the firearm industry in a way that [has made it] almost impossible to get them. They say that is the best way to control crime; however, violent crime rates (with firearms) have increased tremendously. Citizens cannot protect themselves.
My fellow friend shooters suffer to find supplies like ammunition, which is very expensive, around $50 a box of 50 rounds. They also have a lot of issues finding supplies to reload their ammo for the competition, as well as spare parts for their firearms.”
Gabby said now that she knows what it is like to have the freedom to bear arms, she wants to do her best to protect those rights and will be voting for the first time in this year’s election.
Of her recent experiences as one of only two women in the Top Shot house, initially; and later the only one, Gabby said, “I am used to being around men, and they respect me a lot and that makes things much easier. Remember, the respect comes first from the woman, and that is what I did. I had so much fun with them. I learned a lot from them and really enjoyed my time in the house.”
Her skills and abilities quickly earned her the aforementioned tongue-in-cheek nicknames among the men, however, who came to admire and respect her during the filming of the show.
“While we were at the house, we’d often call her the ‘Ice Queen’ for her amazing focus,” said fellow Top Shot competitor and close friend, Chee Kwan,” and then we later referred to her as ‘La Reina Latina Assassina,’ or the ‘Latin Assassin Queen.’ I don’t think she liked the latter of the two nicknames because she didn’t like to compare herself or her abilities to that of an assassin. Her last name is ‘Franco’ [though] and when you add the Spanish word for shooter, it becomes ‘Franco Tiradora’ meaning female sniper.”
Competitor, Dylan Fletcher, added yet another nickname by saying, “Oh, you mean the Terminator?” when asked for his comments about Gabby.
“If I were to pick one person from season four of Top Shot to win the whole thing, Gabby would have been my number one pick,” Dylan explained. ”When you get to know Gabby outside the competition, she’s this incredibly sweet, kind, thoughtful person. Something about her just makes you smile when she’s around. She just has this personality that makes you think, ‘this sweet little girl couldn’t hurt a fly. She’s just too nice.’ Then, stick a gun, ANY gun, in her hands. She turns to the targets. Her face goes completely cold. It’s like looking at a Terminator standing there. You can almost see the code running over her eyes in red letters saying, ‘Annihilate Everything.’
She aims as though her goal is actually to split the middle of the most center atom of the bullseye. Her trigger pull is crisp and steady. POW! target down. POW! POW! POW! over and over again. Nothing is safe. ”
Chee agreed that Gabby’s ability to quickly adapt to any firearm placed in her hands made her a fierce competitor to her male counterparts, but that everyone came to love her for her gracious personality, not just for her weaponry skills.
“Gab is an incredibly talented shooter with an amazing ability to quickly adapt and overcome. Her basic fundamentals with a pistol and rifle easily outclass that of many of the competitors who are on this current season of Top Shot,” Chee said. ”In addition to being a great shooter, Gab is also a wonderful person. She is genuinely kind and showed great concern for every competitor in the house. When not on the firing line, Gab was often the life of the house. She would tell stories of her time in the Olympics or display her incredible Merengue or Flamenco dance steps.”
Gabby acknowledged that the episode where she “fired her last shot” and her friend, Chee, was the one whose score sealed her fate was heartbreaking.
“It was not easy, but I didn’t expect anything less from him, and I was just happy that I was not wrong about that. Chee and I continue to be great friends, as well as all of the other competitors in Top Shot. We are good friends.”
Chee remembered the friendship fondly, as well, and said, “As a friend, Gab was incredibly patient and understanding. What I remember most about my time with Gab was the countless hours we’d spend watching the stars and competing to see who would find the most shooting stars and satellites.”
Chris Cheng, who we now know as the winner of this year’s Top Shot, echoed Chee’s accolades of Gabby by saying, “When we had our first elimination challenge with the M14 at 200 yards, I had no idea who Gabby was until Colby announced she was an Olympic shooter. It was right there and then that I knew Gabby was a professional who meant business, and I expected her to excel in the competition. Gabby carries herself very well, is very confident in her shooting abilities, and has the heart of a champion. ”
Fellow female competitor, Michelle Viscusi, said she has remained friends with Gabby since they have both left the show. “I do talk to Gabby quite a bit,” she said. ”I miss her the most! She’s such a genuine person and an AMAZING shooter. If you ever get the chance, take her class and go learn with her. She’s great, along with everyone else!”
In fact, everyone who graciously shared their opinion about Gabby had pretty much the same impression of her – fierce, determined, skilled competitor; but a kind, genuine, and caring young woman.
“I honestly, truly believe that out of all of us, she was by far (and I mean miles ahead) the best shooter,” Dylan Fletcher said. ”Her fundamentals are perfect, her experience hardened, and her adaptability incredible. Outside the competition, in the short time I had, locked in that house with Gabby, I discovered a person I knew I would care about and want to be friends with.
To see that combination of personality, determination, and just everything in one person… it’s hard not to love them. She’s a miraculous contradiction of sweet, kind, loving personality, and fierce, cold, calculated determination. You would never imagine that one person could possess and balance those opposite attributes to the extreme that they exist in Gabby. It’s seriously amazing. I’ll consider her a sister for the rest of my life. I just hope I never piss her off.”
When asked what she would tell new shooters, Gabby, who has a firearms instruction business in the Miami, Florida area, said, “SAFETY, LEARN, LISTEN, PRACTICE. There is not good shooting without safety. Learn as much as you can and never stop learning. This is a sport that you get better with time. Listen to instructors. Take [what] helps you and discard the rest, but never underestimate someone’s knowledge. Do PERFECT PRACTICE. Make sure that what you repeat is right and so you don’t create bad habits.”
Gabby said that, post Top Shot, she is continuing to focus on her business as an instructor and her career as a professional shooter. “I am trying to develop a way to use the exposure I have received with TOP SHOT to keep encouraging women to shoot and keep the sport and our second amendment alive,” she said.
Chris Cheng summed up the contestants’ feelings of Gabby when he said, “She was such a pleasure to be around, and was a great source of strength not only for our team, but for the entire house of competitors. We are all very proud of Gabby’s accomplishments, and I know she will continue to do great things in her life. She has inspired thousands of women and fans to have fun shooting, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for Gabby Franco!”
Note: Greg Littlejohn, who was one of the final two contestants on Top Shot this season, was on vacation when I asked him to comment on Gabby; but has just sent the following thoughts about her: “Gabby is an incredible person. She’s got a kind heart and a heart of a warrior all wrapped up in one tiny bundle. She’s great at life in general, but with a gun in her hand she’s one of the best. She never has a bad thing to say, just words of encouragement, even for her competitors. I will never forget Gabby, so tiny, so caring, and soooooooo good.”
Thanks, everyone, for making this a great season, and for taking the time to contribute to Gabby’s story.