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USA Insider Race to Survive: New Zealand

What Is Smokejumping? Race to Survive: New Zealand Competitors Explained

Two of the contestants on the new survival competition series jump out of planes to fight fires for their day job. 

By James Grebey
Water and Ice (and No Food!): Race to Survive: New Zealand E1 Sneak Peek

In Race to Survive: New Zealand, nine teams of two must compete in a trek across the wilderness of Middle-earth itself, braving rough, occasionally dangerous terrain in an attempt to be the winners of the $500,000 prize. All of the contestants have various strengths that might give them an edge in the competition, but a race across the country might be nothing compared to Ethan Greenberg and Tyrie Mann Merrill’s day jobs of jumping out of planes to fight forest fires. 

How to Watch

Watch new episodes of Race to Survive: New Zealand Mondays at 11/10c on USA Network

Greenberg and Merrill, who are from Massachusetts and Nevada, respectively, are smokejumpers — a cool name for a very cool (and important!) job. 

What Is Smokejumping?

You could almost think of smokejumpers as the special forces of firefighters. They’re often the first response to a forest fire, as rather than hike to the site of a newly ignited burn, they jump out of a plane to get to the scene as fast as possible. By arriving quickly, these smokejumpers are sometimes able to stop a fire before it gets out of control, providing advanced on-the-ground recon, digging trenches, and using other methods to stop an inferno from spreading. 

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According to the U.S. Forest Service's official website, "Smokejumpers travel all over the country, including Alaska, to provide highly-trained, experienced firefighters and leadership for quick initial attack on wildland fires in remote areas. Firefighting tools, food, and water are dropped by parachute to the firefighters after they land near the fire making them self-sufficient for the first 48 hours. Most smokejumpers work from late spring through early fall."

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The Forest Service employs roughly 320 smokejumpers every year to help battle the country's most dangerous — and often remote — blazes. Many smokejumpers have past experience as hotshots: elite, highly trained firefighters who battle flames on the front lines. 

In addition to the United States, Canada and Russia also have smokejumper teams. 

RELATED: Shows Like Race To Survive: Alaska Streaming On Peacock Right Now

Smokejumping is inherently dangerous, but smokejumper fatalities are very rare, in large part because of how well-trained the smokejumpers are. 

Greenberg and Merrill are based in Montana, one of the seven bases where the Forest Service operates smokejumping teams. Watch Race to Survive: New Zealand to see how their experience jumping out of planes to battle flames prepares them for a dash across the country.

New episodes of Race to Survive: New Zealand air on Monday nights at 11 p.m. on USA Network. Catch up on Race to Survive: Alaska on Peacock.