COMMENTARY

Survival tips from TV we didn't know we needed

From both "Yellowjackets" and "Station Eleven" we've gleaned very important lessons we've never considered before

By Melanie McFarland

Published January 23, 2022 3:30PM (EST)

Yellowjackets (Ian Watson /Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME)
Yellowjackets (Ian Watson /Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME)

Somewhere on the path between "Lost," "The Walking Dead" and "Naked and Afraid," generations of channel surfers and film gawkers have picked up common ideas about what it takes to survive. Much of it is useful information, starting with: Find your bearings. Create, or seek, safe shelter. Get fresh water, build a fire.

As everyone discovering HBO Max's "Station Eleven" and Showtime's "Yellowjackets" will see, both shows follow those steps as well, although their situations differ to a great degree. "Yellowjackets" strands a high school girls' soccer team in the wilderness for 19 months after the plane flying them to a national championship crashes. Their ordeal, though harrowing, is temporary.

In "Station Eleven," a pandemic collapses civilization and the remaining human survivors must find ways, and reasons, to live on. There's no going back.

Unintentionally both present similar survival scenarios for which most of us probably haven't prepared. Your bugout bag might be stocked better than anyone you know, and your wilderness training may be top-notch. But ask yourself, have you considered who you'd team with? Are you convincing enough to calm a mob? Do you know how to mix and match fabrics and patterns?

Whether you find yourself temporarily abandoned in the wilderness or foraging for sustenance after an apocalypse, here are five situations seen in both shows for which you may want to prepare.

RELATED: What pop culture taught me about living through the end of the world

Never count out the goalie

A vital commonality between these two shows is the demonstrated resilience of goalies, starting with the marooned survivors at the Severn City Airport in "Station Eleven."

When a charismatic huckster lures away a group of people with the unfounded assurance that he knows of a safe haven in Florida, he purports to only have selected the best and brightest of the Severn crowd, including the pilot and everyone on the women's soccer team that's among them – except for the goal keeper.

Those left behind are as ticked off and dejected as she is, until Clark (David Wilmot), a corporate crisis manager in his now former life, bonds the strangers with an electrifying speech that specifically validates the forlorn young athlete.

"You know, everybody s**ts on the goalie," he says. "No, they like strikers, the flash. But the goalie? That's how you win things! We're in this together, and we're a family now."

The Yellowjackets' goaltender Van (Liv Hewson) proves that beyond a doubt. Left behind to burn to death when another teammate can't help her unbuckle the seatbelt that's restraining her, she somehow escapes on her own.

Later she's attacked and ripped apart by wolves, but survives to stand triumphantly at the side of Lottie (Courtney Eaton) as she presides over a bloody sacrificial offering. Which is great for Lottie, but probably not the best news for everyone else.

You have to admit, in a situation that could require a fight for your life, there aren't many better people to have on your side than someone who is accustomed to putting her body between a target and an object moving at high velocity. So when it comes time to leave your house and make new friends, gather your goalies where and while ye may!

Take a toastmaster class

Returning to Clark's speech, that is the moment he, along with his frenemy Elizabeth (Caitlin FitzGerald), a famous actor, and Miles (Milton Barnes), an airport maintenance man, assume leadership over the Severn City Airport's stranded passengers and organize them into self-sufficient community. Later in "Station Eleven" Miles credits Clark's ability to pull a rousing speech out of his hat as the reason they were able to construct their fiefdom out of nothing.

And if Lottie transforms from a odd visionary into a cult leader on "Yellowjackets," won't that be due to her deranged, silver-tongued persuasiveness? The only person on the squad better at rallying the troops with uplifting, off-the-cuff prose is the team captain, Jackie (Ella Purnell). But her oratory triumphs are behind her, along with the rest of the living world.

Take wolves very seriously

This probably isn't news to outdoorsy people, most of whom aren't likely to stumble across wolfpacks on standard hikes. Several states have laws authorizing hunts to winnow down their numbers, in fact. Beyond the reach of civilization, however, wolf packs probably would make a healthier, speedier comeback than humans.

In post-apocalyptic Michigan, we're basically walking ham hocks. Jeevan (Himesh Patel) finds that out the hard way during a night hike when one ambushes him and nearly mauls him to death.

The world doesn't have to end for wolves to test our resolve, as the Yellowjackets discover and for which Van pays a heavy price. Luckily for her, as we previously pointed out, she's a goalie – and her wound only makes her look more imposing.

Amateur amputation: Carve off that dead weight!

The average prepper has a few antibiotics, bandages and suturing kits in their stores, along with a field medicine manual. Generally speaking we avoid thinking about how to contend with an injury severe enough to require parting with a limb, and rightly so. That's a job for medical professionals.

But as crazy capable Misty (Samantha Hanratty) teaches us in "Yellowjackets," sometimes all you have is an equipment manager who has read up on emergency medicine and has a pathological need to be valued. When their assistant coach Ben Scott's leg is mangled beyond repair in the plane crash, Misty swiftly moves in, applies a tourniquet and chops through the shredded limb. Coach Scott lives, although at times he probably wishes the crash had taken him.

Over on "Station Eleven," Jeevan is more fortunate when half of his mauled foot must be removed, in that an actual doctor, albeit one who lost her license, does the operation. Point being, you can't always count on either the real deal or a skilled hobbyist being around. You may need to do the job yourself. Bone up on the basics. (Editor's note: Seriously, remember that these are TV fantasies. Please don't actually try this at home.)


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Dress for survival success . . . and excess

Survivalists take care in planning their outfits, although precious few of them pack formal wear. But what is the point of surviving if you don't have anything to dress for? Fashion plays a central role in "Station Eleven" thanks to The Traveling Symphony's performances of Shakespeare and their affection for vibrant objects.

 "Yellowjackets" doesn't assign the girls' clothing much significance until the crash survivors are on the verge of starving to death. At that point, costume becomes one of the last indulgences they turn to, gathering found scraps from the wreckage, leaves, feathers and other natural objects into a homecoming-style fancy dress parade. It's one of the season's loveliest scenes . . . until everything goes sideways.

Regardless of that, heed the larger point: Never leave home without a sturdy sewing kit. You may need it to repair a hole in your sweater, or to stitch forest floor formalwear, or to close the skin where a leg used to be. One never knows what life plans to kick our way, so it's always best to be prepared.

All episodes of "Station Eleven" can be streamed on HBO Max. All episodes of "Yellowjackets" are available to stream on the Showtime app or with an upgraded Paramount+ subscription.

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Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's TV critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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Apocalypse Commentary Hbo Max Showtime Station Eleven Yellowjackets