stayin' alive

A Survival Expert Breaks Down the Yellowjackets’ Best and Worst Decisions

Photo: Michael Courtney/Showtime

Spoilers for Yellowjackets through episode nine, “Doomcoming.”

Showtime’s buzzy new series Yellowjackets has everyone wondering: When are these girls going to start eating each other? The series follows a high-school soccer team that resorts to cannibalism (probably!) while stranded in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash — a fresh spin on survival as a teen girl while surviving teen girls — and the survivors’ attempts to lead well-adjusted lives 25 years later.

If you’re like me, you might be yelling at the TV whenever a) Christina Ricci appears and b) the teens make a decision that does not seem fully thought through. And though my viewing of nearly all 41 seasons of Survivor makes me somewhat of a survival expert, I decided to turn to a professional instructor to answer my questions about enduring the Yellowjackets experience. Mountain Shepherd Adventure School owner Dina Imbriani hopped on the phone to share the seven most important elements of survival — positive mental attitude, first aid, shelter, fire, signaling, water, and food — and evaluate some of the decisions the Yellowjackets have made so far, from their hunting efforts to who’s deserving of the chop (literally).

They voted on whether to stay at the plane-crash site or move toward the lake. What should they have actually done?
That “should I stay or should I go” is always a good question. You almost always stay unless you’re in physical danger or no one knows where you are. Getting water was a good call, but they should have left a trail so they could get back to the plane. Finding that cabin gave them shelter, but the beach at the lake would’ve been a great place to keep a huge bonfire going as a signal.

How would you suggest they make the best signal possible?
Three of anything is the international signal of distress. Maintaining three fires would be a hard thing to do, but if they kept a big fire going and threw piles of green vegetation on it, that would make a huge smoke signal. If planes or helicopters were looking for them overhead, they would also see that smoke. An arrow or a V is also a signal of distress, so on that beachy area around the lake, if they had made some sort of V symbol pointing to where they were, that would contrast. You’ll see people get rescued because they write “help” or “SOS.” That also works, it’s just a lot easier and expends a lot less energy to make a big V.

Misty uses an axe to cut off Steve’s injured leg and then cauterizes it. Did she do the right thing?
Well, with the way his leg looked, and so that he didn’t bleed out, I would have to say it was. It was kind of drastic, but ultimately, she stopped the bleeding. She tied a tourniquet on it first, because it was just gushing blood like that. The way that injury looked on screen, there really didn’t seem any other way to do it. Now, how logical that was for a 16-year-old girl to do with accuracy and just babysitting first-aid training? Little far-fetched.

How would you evaluate their hunting?
They set up snares, which looked pretty good. They put that net out. Of course, having the gun with a lot of ammo was useful. They didn’t rely on just one thing; they looked at all kinds of options. They did a lot of the right things for a long-term survival situation.

When they had the deer, they brought it right into their camp and dressed it by their cabin. Probably wasn’t the best idea. They should have done all that far away from their camp so it didn’t attract dangerous animals. Unless they were going to keep an eye on it and see if it attracted something else they could eat.

Taissa leads a group to go looking for help. Is that usually a good idea?
It’s not necessarily a bad thing to do at that point, because no one was looking for them. But they shouldn’t have gone out with the expectation “We’re going to keep going until we get to help.” You could do little recon trips: What can I see? How high can we get? How do we get back?

Do you have any comment on how clean they all are?
They stayed very clean. They did have their suitcases and things, so they were able to change clothes. But yeah, they would’ve been a lot dirtier.

Would you recommend writing in your diary while out in the wild?
Absolutely. Even starting to just process your thoughts, fears, and emotions, get them down on paper to refer back to, to think about, to let go of some stress. If something brings you joy, that’s very important.

Is it a smart idea to have a séance when spooky stuff has been happening?
Well, I guess it depends on whether or not you believe in something like that. If it helped them process something, and that was the best some young girls could come up with, no harm. The ones that were scared of it didn’t go. I think that’s just part of “what can we do to get through this?”

Would you recommend doing shrooms?
[Quickly] No! Eating edible plants is risky anyway. Unless they had really studied the edible plants in that particular region, it’s a very, very risky thing.

There’s obviously this expectation of cannibalism. If they did start eating each other, what would the best selection process be?
I don’t know. Other than when that real-life rugby team came down in the Andes, I don’t know that there’s been much reported about that. The mental anguish of having to do something like that is almost incomprehensible.

Either in your professional opinion or just as a viewer of the show, who do you think they should eat off first?
Who should they eat off first? Is that what you said?

I have no comment there. [Laughs.] It depends on how you look at it. Misty’s the most annoying human, but we already know they didn’t do that. She’s got that evil side, so who knows.

They’re now expecting winter. What are the cardinal rules for surviving the cold?
Food and water. Is that lake going to freeze? Rain water would be even better so they don’t have to worry about purifying it, which takes up other resources for fire. If they do find more game, they need to dry it. They need a lot of firewood.

It’s thinking through and planning. What are the stresses they’re going to be experiencing as winter comes? They need to put a lot of focus on just physical survival. But if they’re going to be snowed in in that cabin, they’ve got to continue to find moments of joy or it’ll be worse and they’ll go down a slippery-slope spiral of bad decisions. Also, think through consequences: If we do this, what can go wrong? I mean the plane thing, that was absurd.

You don’t think it was a good idea for Laura Lee to read about flying a plane and try it herself?
Not even close. Based upon the decomposition of the dead man in the attic, there would have been no tires on that plane. The fuel would’ve been bad. Just a wee bit on the foolish side.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

A Survival Expert Breaks Down Yellowjackets