Exclusive: Jessica 'Sugar' Kiper talks about 'Survivor: Gabon'
By John Bracchitta, 12/16/2008
Jessica "Sugar" Kiper was anything but conventional during her stint on Survivor: Gabon.
A self-proclaimed "free agent" for all but the show's final Tribal Council session, Sugar utilized "temporary" alliances with everyone from the game's most deceptive player to its ultimate champion to survive all 39 days in Gabon and finish as the CBS reality competition's second runner-up.
On Monday, Sugar spoke to Reality TV World in a no-holds-barred interview about how some of her gameplay decisions were based more on entertainment value than actual strategy, why she was so relaxed during the jury questioning ceremony, and why she alleges Robert "Bob" Crowley was not quite as innocent as he seemed on the show.
Reality TV World: In one day, you went from telling Matty that [Crystal Cox] and [Ken "Kenny" Hoang] were your closest allies to voting off Crystal and suddenly telling [Matty Whitmore] and Bob that you wanted to go to the end with them.
Sugar: Well, guess who was winning immunity. (Laughs)
Reality TV World: What happened to prompt such a drastic change -- was it really just seeing Crystal yelling at Matty and learning about Kenny's plan to blindside Bob?
Sugar: Like, literally they played it pretty well because I wasn't trying to decide between the two groups so much I wanted to see who was gonna, who I wanted to be at the end with, like wake-up and have the breakfast with and all that. I like, literally love all those guys (unintelligible) All of those guys were up there.
But when they started yelling at Matty for no reason. They literally for no reason started to kick him while he was down, and he knew, or thought, he was leaving that day. After that I was like "You know what everybody..." (Pauses) Kenny was a little bit like Smeagol and Gollum, and everyone told me how Crystal was a bully and I'd seen her with other people, but she hadn't been like that with me. But when I saw her do that to Matty it was kind of ridiculous and uncalled for. I was like "Somebody had to go anyway that night. There you go."
Reality TV World: Before you left for the Final 5 Tribal Council, Matty had told Kenny that you were going to tell [Susie Smith] she was going to be the one going home. Was that true, had you planned on doing that?
Sugar: Matty told Kenny that Susie was going home?
Reality TV World: Matty told Kenny that YOU were going to tell Susie she was going home.
Sugar: Yeah, everybody acted like we were gonna tell Susie that we were sending her home, and she as acting like it was okay with her. Meanwhile we were all blindsiding Kenny.
Reality TV World: So that was planned...
Sugar: Yeah, that was planned. You know how they edit things weird, so some things you don't get to see.
Reality TV World: After Susie won the final Immunity Challenge...
Sugar: (Interrupting)... Whoa! (Laughs)
Reality TV World: Did you ever think that you were taking a risk that Susie might decide to vote for you when you kept criticizing how she kept talking about having won the challenge?
Sugar: No. It was just me and her and Matty and Bob, and Matty and I were both telling her that "We don't mind you talking to us about it." Susie does talk a lot, she can't help it. Everything she says is nice, she doesn't say anything mean about anybody, so I don't mind her talking.
But she was just so excited and she couldn't stop talking about [winning the challenge], and Bob thought that he was going home right then so it was the same as Crystal or Kenny yelling at Matty when he was down. She didn't mean to do it. but she was hurting Bob's feelings a lot and Me and Matty were just kinda like "Dude, chill out when he's around. We can still talk about it, but you're shoving it in his face."
Reality TV World: During the last Tribal Council, you mentioned that you didn't think you could win the jury vote against either Matty or Bob....
Sugar: (Interrupting with a laugh) I don't think there was anybody I could have won against.
Reality TV World: ...so why did you decide to push Kenny and Crystal out and form that Final 3 alliance with Bob and Matty when you knew they were competition?
Sugar: Bob and Matty being competition? There was the Final 3, and one of them was gonna keep winning immunity, so I just wanted to be in with the guys who were gonna be in at the end so that I was at the end. But I do love them both, and I don't have anything against Susie, but I barely knew Susie. I wanted to go with the two guys.
I knew I had no chance with either of them. I thought there would be Bob, then there would be Matty, and then there would be me. In every scenario I could think of I was gonna be third, so it didn't matter. I wasn't playing for the jury vote, I was playing for America['s vote], which I almost got until that bastard stole it right from under me! (Laughs)
Reality TV World: You were close with Matty, you even considered him a "brother." Did you ever think of giving him the same head's up as you gave Bob that you were planning to force a tie [at the Final 4 Tribal Council vote]?
Sugar: I knew that Matty and Bob were both already good at working on fire, and Susie already told Matty -- they didn't show this -- Susie told Matty "Hey, who knows. Sugar may be going to make a fire challenge." That was smart Susie. She was like "Maybe you should go practice making fire," and he was like "No, no," and he just didn't.
I could've warned him, but then it wouldn't have been very fun [if everybody knew what was about to happen], would it?
Reality TV World: So you were kind of playing up the...
Sugar: (Interrupting) Entertainment value? I'm an actor, I've been in [the Screen Actors' Guild] for 10 years.
Reality TV World: Yeah...
Sugar: They cut that part out because that's the first thing I said in my going out speech. "I've been in the Screen Actor's Guild for 10 years. I don't just do pinup!" (Laughs). I'm not a waste on society, I don't live out of my car.
Reality TV World: Given you didn't think you had a chance against either Bob or Matty, what reasons eventually led you to decide that you felt Bob was more "deserving" of the $1,000,000 than Matty?
Sugar: I didn't! (Laughs) You watched it didn't you? I'd already saved Bob once, and I'd already saved Matty once. It wouldn't be fair to save one of them twice, so I thought "Okay, what would be the most interesting thing to happen right before the Final 3?"
To break it up and make a fire challenge because I can't decide, and leave it up to the fire Gods.
Reality TV World: Did you ever get to explain to Matty what your reasoning was behind that decision?
Sugar: No, Matty and I are friends, he totally understands.
Reality TV World: During the jury questions, Matty asked you what you what did that was "evil..."
Sugar: (Interrupting) They cut out everything I said.
Reality TV World: Oh, well what did you say?
Sugar: I said [to] [Randy Bailey] that I shouldn't have yelled and laughed so hard, blah, blah blah. I told everything that I did. (Laughs) I have no idea why they cut it like that! But [with] Kenny, I did break his heart, and that did make me sad. But that was not the only thing I said! (Chuckles)
Reality TV World: It seemed pretty obvious that [Matty] was expecting you to give him an answer about how you'd voted to vote him off at the last Tribal Council. Did that get cut out?
Sugar: Matty? Did he ask me that at the last [Tribal Council], I don't remember.
Reality TV World: It kind of seemed so, and I wasn't sure if that may have been cut out of the answer.
Sugar: No, I think he got it then, but we've talked about it since and he's fine.
Reality TV World: When you went into the jury questions, it looked like you had quit playing for yourself...
Sugar: Oh, because I was like "Bob should be up here," is that what you were talking about?
Reality TV World: Yeah, you were definitely talking up Bob, and was that kind of playing into the theatrics [and "entertainment value" you mentioned]?
Sugar: No. Let me tell you, right before our final [Tribal Council] I was about to puke in the holding tent! Like literally, I was sick to my stomach, I was about to pass out.
[The medical staff] gave me a shot, and they're like "You could go into convulsions, or you could just be really, really relaxed." (Laughs) Okay, well I don't wanna puke and I don't wanna go into convulsions, so I hope I get really, really relaxed. (Laughs)
So at that point it was Day 39, I had just gotten super relaxed, I surprised that I was up there and I knew that I was [third place] no matter what happened, and I was just being truthful. I was being as truthful as I could.
I really didn't expect Randy to even consider my vote. Like, fuck you Randy, fuck you [Corinne Kaplan].
Reality TV World: During the jury session, you said you felt like a "free agent" during the entire game.
Sugar: The whole time. I had no allegiance to anyone. I'm my own team.
Reality TV World: There had been times you were with Crystal and Kenny, or Matty, Crystal, Kenny, and Susie, or [Ace Gordon].
Sugar: I was a double-agent also...
Reality TV World: I just wanted to ask what was the distinction you were trying to make by saying you were a "free agent"?
Sugar: I don't know if you watch the little side videos that they put on [CBS.com], but I had a whole thing where I was like "I have two alliances." And then I was [thinking of which one to go with] and I went with Bob.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised that you didn't get a single vote and Susie ended up three?
Sugar: I was surprised that Susie and Bob were so close [in the voting], but I thought if anybody was a big lover of the show and liked gameplay that I'd at least get a vote or two, just based upon the fact that I actually did anything.
Reality TV World: Had you gone into [Survivor] planning to "play by your heart," or was that something that developed once you got in the game?
Sugar: Well I had the "Alpha Dog" plan [where] somebody has to protect me for the [competition's] first half. After that it was just like, once I get past that I think I can do it.
So once I killed my best friend who helped me and saved me for half the game, I was kinda like "Oh, no one's safe. If I can kill my best friend, you're all dead."
Reality TV World: So that was kind of the switch point?
Sugar: Yeah, at that point I was like "Game on," and basically I was just trying to be led by my heart and how I felt at the moment.
Reality TV World: What was your thinking when you decided to give Matty your Immunity Idol at that Tribal Council where you turned on Crystal? Were you not confident that other people would be voting for Crystal?
Sugar: We all knew who was voting for who. Everybody knows everything. Matty already knew that I was gonna give him that idol. I don't know why they made it look like I sat there for so long! (Laughs) They made it look like I was sitting there deciding, or I wasn't gonna play it.
It was the last day I could play the idol, and I knew by wearing it [into Tribal Council], and talking all this shit before I left like "Hey, I'm wearing it, so you guys know you can't vote for me." I knew that they wouldn't vote for me and that my whole [plan] would work, and it did.
Reality TV World: Kenny apparently was really lying about the fact that Ace was planning to vote you off.
Reality TV World: What convinced you that Matty was telling the truth when he'd said Kenny was lying?
Sugar: Well, why would he lie to me about that? Ace was gone and, I don't know, he just wanted to make sure I wasn't being too duped. And I was dubious of Kenny and I knew he could have been lying to me when that happened, and after that I didn't hate Kenny because he was playing a game. He was playing a smart game, he just wanted to save Crystal.
Reality TV World: Given you're an actress, and you obviously like the theatrics, a lot of people have been wondering how many of those tears we saw in the game were genuine and how many of them were just acting -- what's your answer?
Sugar: Tears that weren't true? Well, actually I don't think I did cry but, when I would come back from Exile and I would act all like I was so miserable and that I missed them so much I was really [just] happy that I had a few days away from everybody and all the craziness. That's the only time I acted sad when I wasn't.
Everything else was just... My dad had just passed away, and it was very hard to control my emotions, and I was under a lot of stress, and we weren't eating much, we were sleeping on the ground. Not very great conditions, so I was very emotional. I'm an emotional person but I'm definitely nothing like that! (laughs)
I definitely got my thicker skin finally.
Reality TV World: You reiterated many times that while people thought you were being used by Ace that you were working out your own strategy while allying with him. That clearly ended up being true as you were able to get him booted, was that part of your "Alpha Dog" plan to stay with someone to help get you into [the game] and then move on from there?
Sugar: Well I felt pretty safe after that [blindside] that I could play the game on my own now. I wasn't thinking that I really should've fucking talked to Ace and seen what he had to say before I made that decision. I was definitely way too quick to throw him under the bus.
But yes, everybody thought he was using me and I was using him back. I needed to get rid of him at some point so it didn't seem that he was leading me through the game and so I could get a little street credit.
Also, by getting rid of him it made [everyone else] trust me more.
Reality TV World: Corinne said that one of the reasons she and Randy had believed Bob's fake idol was [the hidden idol from Exile was] because you and Matty had told them that you had used [the hidden idol] to save yourself when [Kelly Czarnecki] was voted out. Is that true?
Sugar: I'm actually glad she said that, because I was like "God, another cool thing that I did that they didn't use." (Laughs)
When we went to the fake merge, Matty and I -- and also Kenny and Crystal, they were in on that too -- told everybody that I used my [Immunity Idol] to take out Kelly, because they knew that Kelly and I didn't really get along too well since the beginning.
So they thought... Well it was obvious that I must've had it at some point. I needed them to think that it was back out there.
Reality TV World: Whose idea was it?
Reality TV World: Was there ever a Tribal Council where you felt you may be commanding enough attention that you wanted to play the [hidden] Immunity Idol to be safe?
Sugar: Um, there was one towards the beginning, I think it was the Kelly one actually. Ace and I were making eye contact and he was gonna let me know if he thinks I should play it, and I really didn't feel like I needed to play it, and so I didn't.
I was trying to save that until... (Pauses) I was hoping that I never would have to use it, and then I was like "Well, they're not gonna let me keep it, so I gotta give it to somebody, and I might as well give it to Matty since I'm safe on Day 36.
Reality TV World: What was your strategy behind giving the idol to Ace?
Sugar: (Laughs) No strategy. Absolutely no strategy. I just felt that I had been carried through the game by Ace so far, and at that point I still had very little confidence in myself. I felt like if I wasn't gonna play it that I wanted Ace to have it for later in case I did get kicked out. At that point I was just like "Anytime that I go, it's my time to go."
The further along I got [in the competition] the more I got like "Wait a minute, I'm playing this game and [do well in it]. Let's start thinking Kiper!" (Laughs)
Reality TV World: You ended up taking it back after Kenny spoke to you. Did he convince you to do that or had you never intended for Ace to keep the idol all the way until Tribal Council?
Sugar: Those were two different Tribal Councils. [Ace] had it at one, and the second one... Before the Tribal Council came up, and our conversations were longer than they show and I wasn't sure if I could trust Kenny, but five seconds before Ace asked me for the idol again Kenny told me that [Ace] was gonna ask me. And if Ace was asking me [in order to] show Kenny and Matty to have them trust him that he could get the idol from me, than he should've just told me that.
But if that was actually his plan, he didn't [tell me]. He seemed like he was lying to me and he was acting a little different than normal. And the fact that he was asking for it meant that he didn't trust me, because I was always the swing vote.
So when he told me that, I [thought] if he was just doing that to ease Matty then he needed to talk to me more. So there was some miscommunication between me and Ace. He kind of led himself by asking for the idol and not trusting me, and not telling me that he needed to show Matty or Kenny that he could get it from me so that they could trust him more. If he had talked to me about that, then things would be completely different. . Reality TV World: Can you talk a little about how you and Corinne ended up having such a poor relationship together? Did that start [right] on Day 1?
Sugar: Actually Corinne was going to be our first vote out just because nobody liked her and she didn't smile at anybody beforehand. She just wasn't friendly, I mean that's why she was second-to-last picked [during the initial pick 'em].
Once she got on our tribe she started opening up and being funny and talking about asses a lot -- she really likes anal jokes, but I don't know what that's about. She talked about disgusting things because she wanted to be a [standup comedian] at some point in time, and so all of her jokes were kind of crass. So she was kinda funny.
I didn't dislike her, I never hated Corinne. Apparently she decided on Day 2 that she didn't like me for absolutely no reason, and I never did anything to her [despite] what she's saying in other interviews.
Usually when that happens in high school it's because the girl is jealous. So, I didn't do anything to her and I was nothing but nice to her (Laughs) That's on her soul. I don't give a shit about her.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised how cruel she was with her jury comments?
Sugar: (Laughs) No! I lived with her for a long time
Reality TV World: So that wasn't a surprise to you then?
Sugar: Well it surprised me that somebody could be like that. Her family needs to have really good life insurance policies, because her karma kinda sucks.
Reality TV World: You also didn't get along too well with Randy. Was that relationship just the victim of the Fang tribe and its very slow start, or did the hatred build over time?
Sugar: Randy was an asshole from the get-go, and no matter what tribe he was on he was like "Wah, wah, wah. Losers!" But [for the game's] first half he was the loser himself. Funny that he can't remember that when he was like... (Pauses) Once he became a Kota [tribe member] he was like "Oh, people accept me because they're assholes and I'm an asshole." (Laughs)
So Randy, from the get-go, wearing his little "banana hammock" during the "big ball" challenge, that grossed everybody out. Everyone on Kota was like "Who the fuck is that guy?" and then his comments in between... he was just being a very ugly person way before I even had to be on a tribe with him.
Once I was on a tribe with him it was me, Matty, [Charlie Herschel], Corinne, and Randy. Corinne and Randy talked shit all day long about every single person and complained. It was nothing but negative junk spewing out of their mouths. Me and Matty were miserable. We were already upset that we were stuck on Fang, then these assholes come in and just make our lives even more miserable. And Charlie just sat there and laughed at everything, he's guilty by association. I think people like that are just as bad as the people they hang out with.
Charlie and I were talking last night and he was like "I'm friends with everybody!" But if you can't be friends with me in front of Corinne, and you're like scared of her or something, then I don't understand that. It's weird, he won't come around me when she's around.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised by Bob's reaction following Randy's elimination when he yelled at you? I mean, it's not like he wasn't involved in it.
Sugar: Yes I was surprised. Bob has a hot temper and he's gone off on people for no reason sometimes, like women crew members. So we (Pauses) I don't know, Bob's opinion really does count to me, but Bob had been trying to kill me since the beginning of the game. There was absolutely no rhyme or reason as to why I should help Bob besides the fact that I thought of him as a father figure, even though he was a little bit of a pervert during the game. I still try to look past that...
Reality TV World: Can you elaborate on any of that? That wasn't really shown on the show at all.
Sugar: They didn't want Bob to seem like that, so they cut out anything like that, but Crystal knows what I'm talkin' about. (Laughs)
Reality TV World: Okay. Well, what surprised you the most about Survivor?
Sugar: The mind fuck. I was more scared about roughing it in the challenges and that stuff was a piece of cake compared to being forced to be with people that are just mean for no reason (Laughs)
Reality TV World: And I know I kind of just asked this about Bob, but I guess not necessarily limited to him, was there anything that didn't make it on the air that you wish had?
Sugar: Oh God, I'm glad you asked, there were a couple of things. There was me telling them that I used my idol to vote out Kelly, so that made everyone think I didn't have it anymore.
There were a couple of things here and there, I can't remember. (Pauses) There was a couple of little things, and they were just strategic moves of mine, but they played a lot of them so it doesn't matter.
Let me tell you, the one thing I wish they did play on the show is in my final speech where the first thing I say is "My name is Jessica Kiper, I've been in the Screen Actor's Guild for 10 years. I'm not just a pinup named Sugar. That was part of my game," and then I just went on with the rest.
But yeah, I wish they would've left that so that the audience could be like "Huh?" and then certain people could have had more of a head's up like "Hi, I'm back. It's just a pilot season and we're not striking, please hire me!"
Reality TV World: How much weight did you end up losing while on the show?
Sugar: I lost 13 lbs. I was 10 lbs. overweight when I went on the show because I'd been depressed about my father. Then I gained that back when I got back to New York and started eating again. Since then it's come off again, so I'm the same size as when I got off the show. Back to normal.
Reality TV World: How were you cast on the show? Had you applied previously?
Sugar: No, this is actually kind of a funny story. They were recruiting people for America's Greatest Dog, that horrible show, and I do "Pinups for Pups," which is a dog charity and I was the cover of the calendar this past year. They googled "girl" and "dog" or something and then they found me for that, then they brought me over to Survivor.
I was like "You're out of your mind [Survivor casting director] Lynne Spillman" and I guess she's smarter than I thought. She knew something.