Are you hungry? Because we are. Hungry for victory. Hungry for survival in the fight till the bloody death. Or maybe we’re just hungry for “The Hunger Games.” This WEEKEND, our finest tributes share with us the personas of their fictive Panem counterparts and their strategies for tackling the Hunger Games. This much we know: they may not be strong, but they sure have skill. For the most part.

Hum like a sewing machine, sting like a bee


Children make very unlikely gladiators. But don’t tell that to the orchestrators of the Hunger Games – or to the contestants who enter, American-idol style, into a bloody fight to the death. Given my own recent introduction to the series, it’s probably natural to spin out self-insertion scenarios in my head, to wonder what I would do in the Hunger Games, who I would ally with and what weapon I would use.

The answer to the last: poisonous, genetically modified wasps.

Why? Because I’ve always wanted to shoot what amounts to an angry, fuzzy homing missile at someone.

Realistically, it’s a pretty infeasible idea. For starters, I’m afraid of insects. But the actual me – bespectacled, easily distracted and completely non-athletic – would never survive in dystopian Panem anyway, so I may as well suspend disbelief and indulge in the rule of cool.

Of course, the actual Hunger Games run on the same rule. Like reality TV or professional wrestling, the Games operate as much on narrative tropes as on true skill. Viewers have the power to send in “gifts” to the competitors, influencing the outcome, and the more likable the contestant, the greater the support.

That’s why it would pay for me to be a plucky heroine from District 8 (Textiles) allied with a frail little girl to protect, as opposed to a smug killer with a chronic backstabbing disorder. Of course, this being the Hunger Games, my companion would likely be tragically killed by the others before the end, thus at least sparing me the need to do it myself. Yes, it really is that kind of book.

And then there’s the small matter of revolution, because the Capitol government hasn’t just been using the bloody spectacle of the Hunger Games as entertainment; they’ve also been oppressing my district. Anyone who thinks textile workers are docile should think again, because after years of inhaling factory smoke and chemical¬ compounds, we’re just about ready for spontaneous combustion. Smash all the looms! Stab the Peacekeepers with knitting needles! If we burn, you burn with us!

The Hunger Games are coming.

Who cares about glory? Final moments with Alexander Ludwig


Who cares who I am? All I know is that I’d do everything in my power to team up with Cato. Sure, Katniss might be all fiesty and Peeta’s got that whole lovey dovey thing going on, but have you seen Alexander Ludwig? I don’t care if he’d stab me in the back eventually, I just want my final moments in the arena to be spent next to the hottest (and deadliest) tribute in Panem.

Tao: Meditation master, mutt — not a fighter


A few things about the new female tribute from District Six. Keeping with the trends (Thresh, Rue, Clove, Cato), she has a punchy name loaded with all kinds of possible interpretations. Tao as in Dao, as in Tao-Te-Ching, as in Taoism? (The absolute principle underlying the universe, combining within itself the principles of yin and yang and signifying the way, or code of behavior, that is in harmony with the natural order?) That’s deep. And that’s what this tribute draws on to get herself to the final few: a harmony with nature that no other tributes possess. What’s the deal with the meditation skillz? Tao can meditate so hard that she can go for days without food or water, literally floating above her corporeal self into a trace-like, spirit state. Doesn’t need to waste her time and energy scampering around setting traps for rabbits, this one. But what does she do when 21 of the tributes have died out and her meditation isn’t proving very lethal? Well, she doesn’t come from District Six for nothing; Tao knows her medicinal flora and fauna like no other. Being all harmonious and everything, she’s not one for confrontation, so she mortar and pestles up some not-so-medicinal concoctions, slips them into her competitors’ sources of sustenance, and BAM, they die. Not really bam, but they die. Actually, the Capitol is pretty pissed that Tao cops her way out of a crowd-pleasing confrontational murder scheme. They force her into a final one-on-one and she legitimately learned nothing from the training session, so she gets killed within seconds. Basically, little female monks don’t make for great reality TV.

But – Tao, along with her angsty monosyllabic name, also has another key trait: racial ambiguity. Have you seen the current tributes? Okay, all I’m saying is that in some futuristic North American hinterlandia, wouldn’t we be seeing a little more ethnic inter-mixing than Peeta, Katniss, and Gale have to show for? Actually, when Tao was looking at the current Guide to the Tributes at the Miami Airport, she noticed they were all pretty much white, black, or Asian. What’s with that? Tribute boys from Districts Eight and Ten are a little less clear, but honestly, Panem. The Capitol could have definitely encouraged some more creative breeding. Get some mutts in the arena! Mutts put up a great fight. I mean, clearly not Tao, but generally speaking.

Mason strikes big with pinecones


Katniss can shoot a squirrel in the eye with a bow and arrow. Peeta can paint with all the colors of the mud to camouflage himself expertly in the riverbank. Rue can leap from tree to tree with the agility and grace gained only through years of experience. Their dire circumstances at home have given them the tools essential to survive in the arena.

My childhood was far plushier, and I seriously worry that it has left me dangerously unprepared. Sure, I had a good education. I learned to play the piano. But when it comes to things that really matter — survival skills in a post-apocalyptic fight to the death — I come up empty-handed. How talented is the tribute from District San Fernando Valley? What skills have I picked up from the land of scorching heat and ample frozen yogurt?

Let’s start with archery. At the summer camp I used to go to, we would go as a cabin to the archery range right next to the Ga-ga courts. The goal was to pop a balloon at the center of a bull’s-eye about 20 yards away. Forget about the balloon — I couldn’t even figure out how to get the arrow to stay up without slipping. Plus, the hours we spent learning about archery safety would probably inhibit my ability to lethally shoot someone in the heart.

If my arts and crafts skills are any indication, attempting camouflage would be a disaster. I avoid going to the gym at reasonable hours for fear that people will judge me, so physical strength is out too. One time I went to a class on Tae Kwon Do, but it was just after the dentist extracted one of my teeth and I was a lot more concerned with why the inside of my mouth felt like silly putty.

The one thing I could bring to the table is some measure of speed. I mean, I ran cross country in high school, so that has to count for something. I would have to specify to my assailant that the exact distance I would be running for my life is five kilometers and that he couldn’t go too quickly at the beginning. Or, if there were hurdles conveniently placed every 35 meters, I’d be golden.

Barring the implementation of some sort of affirmative action system for overprivileged tributes, the only way I might survive would be climbing a tree. From there, I could fling pinecones at my opponents until they moved on to some new target or I ran out of pinecones.

Caroline + Peeta = Bliss in Panem


I spent a long time thinking about who I would be in “The Hunger Games,” and was torn between Foxface (in the sense that I don’t know how to hunt and would likely spend my time in the arena stealing from the other tributes while waiting for them to kill each other off) and Katniss (since I’m basically in love with Peeta and want to replace her as his on-screen lover). But Foxface doesn’t work for me because I don’t have red hair and don’t want to be a character without a real name anyway, and Katniss doesn’t work because I don’t have a handsome lover back home waiting for me to return. Unfortunately. So I decided I’d just be myself. Except I’d be a modified version of myself with a black belt and krav maga license — two useful self defense methods that will help in the arena when I face the other tributes and the Gamemakers’ tricks. In this parallel world, my romantic life would also be thriving. Peeta Mellark would be madly in love with me, and the two of us would share a budding romance that even President Snow could not deny. Besides, this arrangement works out best for everyone, as Katniss could continue her relationship with Gale and I could spend my time baking bread with Peeta. Everybody wins. And even better, the four of us could double date.

Scott Stern does Peeta Mellark, better


If I were a character in The Hunger Games, I would be Peeta Mellark. Clearly. I mean, there are really only two options for men, and I don’t even want to get into that other one. For girls, the choices are much more interesting — would you be the obvious choice (Katniss), the youthful choice (Prim), or the interesting choice (Foxface)? If I lacked the Y chromosome, I would definitely go with Rue (who was my favorite from the beginning).

Peeta is honest, smart, and a fierce competitor. He — or rather I — would represent District 12 with pride. But I would have a very different strategy for winning than the Peeta known to Hunger Games readers and movie-goers: screw Katniss… but not in the way you would expect Peeta to. I mean, betray Katniss!

Look, the strategy of pretending to love her will work extremely well in getting sponsors. But it becomes problematic if I actually fall in love with her. Clearly. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and there is no place for silly romances (especially if the girl can’t make up her damn mind).

If I initially acted as Peeta did — team up the Careers — but then didn’t save Katniss, my fiercest opponent would be out of the running right there. Problem solved, and I’m one step closer to winning the Hunger Games. At that point I could abandon the Careers, hopefully taking out Cato and that creepy girl with the knives as I flee.

Then I would hide, allowing my opponents to pick each other off one by one. My strength is in my… well, strength, so I do fare well with close combat. It behooves me to fight as few competitors as possible, however, because hand-to-hand combat is tiresome.

When I finally win, I will bring long-needed pride (and funds) to District 12. Perhaps we can expand the bakery! Oh, I’ll take care of Katniss’s family — far better than Gale ever would. Honestly, Gale…what kind of name is that anyway? Peeta is way more normal. Clearly.