Guest Post: On Female Victors and Probability

It’s Hunger Games Time! Mary Baldwin College Professor Louise Freeman, a longtime friend of this weblog. has jumped from the Pearl Plot and other ideas about Suzanne Collins’ dystopian novels posted here into exploration of neglected details of the series that open up fascinating possibilities about the series’ finale, The Mockingjay. I’ll be posting her insights here this week and next — stay tuned!

Female Victors, Probability and the Quarter Quell

A commonality shared by Johanna and Katniss on Catching Fire is their status as the lone female victor in their District.  Thus, when the conditions of the third Quarter Quell are announced, they are both in the position of being the only name in their Reaping lottery and therefore automatic “winners” of the 96% death chance that comes with being an Arena tribute.  Actually, the risk is probably even higher given their gender; with the emphasis on hand-to-hand combat in the Games, it is fair to assume there are more male than female victors.  So, the odds of survival for these women were probably never higher than 2% or so.  Or even less if you consider neither are from Career districts.

A little statistics, however, leads to a somewhat surprising conclusion.  In all probability (and I mean that quite literally) what’s remarkable about Katniss and Johanna is not their status as lone District female victors. What’s surprising is that we are never told of any other women in the same boat. There are 59 living victors to choose from at the start of the Quell.  I’ll round to 60 to make the math a bit easier.  If all victors were equally Distributed amongst the districts, we’d expect each District to have an average pool of 5 to choose from.

But they aren’t evenly distributed.  We know the Districts who routinely train Careers (1, 2, 4) have more than their fair share of victors.  So, let’s assume that coming from a Career district doubles your chance of winning, and those 3 districts (25%) have a total of 50% (or 30) of the living victors.  This leaves the remaining 9 districts, assuming they are fairly evenly matched, to divide up the remaining 30.  This leaves an average 3.33 victors per district.  Since you can’t have a third of a victor, the most even distribution would be for 3 non-Career districts to have 4 each, and the remaining 6 districts to have 3 each. And keep in mind these are averages, which means some Districts would be expected to have more, some less.

Granted, they got a big boost in the 74th Games, but suddenly District 12 doesn’t look half bad regarding its shortage of victors.  The threesome of Haymitch, Peeta and Katniss puts them dead even with half their fellow districts and statistically no different from any of the non-Career Districts.  Factoring in the assumption that women are less likely to be Hunger Game winners than men, we are looking at 9 Districts where statistically you would expect 1, or at most 2  female candidates for the  Quarter Quell.  Even if you give the Career Districts a generous 10 or so total, we are probably looking at a comparatively shallow pool of women: perhaps 3 to 4.

Hunger Game victors are instant celebrities, both in the Capitol and in their home district.  They are a source of pride, glory and, most importantly to the poorer districts, provisions. Female victors, being rarer, are likely to be even more well-known and admired; compared to the men, their deaths in the arena are also likely to evoke even more compassion and ultimately outrage, from the home District.  It’s not unreasonable to conclude that the 80-something Mags competed sometime in the first 10 years of the Games and could very well have been the first female Victor. The fact that even in the Career-heavy District 4, with lots of victors to choose from, she was still mentoring champions (Finnick) in her 70’s, as recently as 10 years ago, is evidence that her fame was enduring. Add that to her volunteering in the stead of a much younger woman and to the natural compassion almost anyone would feel at the sight of an elderly, crippled woman forced into a fight for her life and we can guess that District 4, at least, where there was already a strong enough current of rebellion to disrupt the Capitol’s precious shrimp supply, might have launched into full-scale revolt even without the inspiration of Katniss and Peeta.  The same is likely true of any District once people realized that cheering for everyone’s favorite Girl On Fire meant condemning their own Mary Lou Retton/Miley Cyrus/past-or-present teenage sweetheart/ hometown favorite to death. It makes you wonder what those Gamemakers were smoking at the planning sessions,.

The fact that every single District was able to scrape up at least one male and one female past victor for the Quarter Quell was either 1) an odds-defying stroke of luck for the both Capitol, if they honestly thought a tournament of champions was a good idea in the current political climate, and for Haymitch and Plutarch, who needed a full slate of allies in the arena to spark full-scale rebellion or 2) an event that, like so much of the Mockingjay rebellion, was orchestrated by players off-screen.


  1. I definitely had issues with the fact that every single district mananged to have at least one male and one female tribute. However, I don’t know where you’re going with your conclusion. Are you now suggesting the possibility that not only were the contestants in each Hunger Games predetermined, but the results were fixed as well?

    I think a more moderate explanation is that SC needed it to work for narrative purposes, so she just made it that way (much the same as JKR’s arbritrary assumption that every Hogwarts class is comprised of forty students, breaking down perfectly into 5 of each gender/House combination). I did a little bit of math on Katniss’ description of the launch setup for HG75, and it seems to suggest that SC isn’t particularly good with numbers. (In short, if Katniss was 40 yards from the Cornucopia at launch, she should only have been 21 feet from the nearest land strip, which is a ridiculously short swim).

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