Jessica “Sugar” Kiper: “I have a few alpha males this time [Rupert, Coach], and maybe a love interest [JT]”

This is the sixth in a series of interviews with Survivor Heroes vs. Villains cast members.

Sugar Kiper Jessica “Sugar” Kiper was pretty much the antithesis of Randy, at least as an interview subject. Instead of being wary of the media, she volunteered an incredible amount of information: her relationship with JT, who she has pre-season alliances with, how production handles contestants’ wardrobe. As just one example, she said the show’s psychologists told her that for a few months after leaving the show, contestants have to be careful about hoarding food and not just peeing anywhere, even though they’ll feel like they want to.

During her time in Gabon, Sugar was rather emotional as the result of her father’s recent death. A year later, she said, “I’m in a much better place. I did lose my mind for the show after a little bit, but I think that happens to most people. I got married to a random stranger who was directing a movie [John Lands], and I had to get out of that. As soon as I came to, I was like, ‘Wait, what did I just do?’ They tell you not to make decisions for four or five months,” she said. But she credits the show with helping her deal with her emotions. “I don’t know how I could have gotten through my father’s passing without doing Survivor, because those 10 days on Exile were the most cleansing, relaxing, mind-clearing experience,” she said.

In Gabon, Sugar said she “played for entertainment value” and even “blindsided my friends at the end for entertainment value” and “I really wasn’t playing to win; I was playing for fan favorite.” But for this all-star season, Sugar said, “I’m playing to win this time.” Her strategy involves “playing the nicest game I possible can. It wasn’t as hard, because these were people you don’t know. Now, all-stars, you’ve met a lot of people at charity events, you’ve become friends.” And she has friends on season 20, saying, “I think I’ve got some good friends. I’m kind of popular with the good people, so I think I might have a chance.”

Sugar was the first person I interviewed to admit to pre-season alliances. “You promise not to tell anybody else?” she said first, and then said she’ll align with JT, Rupert, and Coach, “three completely different people from different seasons; nobody would suspect.” However, she said, “my real allegiance lies with JT and Rupert; and both of them won, so it’s smarter, I think, to get them to the last two” and argue that the others won $1 million and she didn’t. (She also said, “I have my hands in a bunch of different pots” because “me and Courtney are friends, me and Jerri are friends. Each of those people, they have their own people, and so, even if those people don’t like me, I feel that these other people that I have like me more than those people.”)

Perhaps her greatest allegiance lies with the Survivor Tocantins winner, because as has been rumored, she’s romantically involved with JT. “I have a few alpha males this time, and maybe a love interest,” Sugar first said. When I asked who that was, she said, “Who looks like they could be my brother, because those always make the cutest couples, don’t they? I’ll give you a hint: He’s from the south.” She eventually confessed that it was JT, saying they’d met at a charity event in Kentucky. “The screensaver on my phone is him shirtless wearing a Kentucky Derby hat, so we have a little something. That’s not even the most incriminating picture. We decided by the end of this that we’ll know if we like each other enough to get together,” she said.

Sugar alternately suggested that they were in the early stages of a relationship (“I’m seeing a couple people, and unless he’s broken up with his girlfriend…We’re just going to see how it goes,” she said) and saying things that were far more definitive, such as, “I’m moving him out” to Los Angeles. While JT didn’t mention a relationship or alliances to me, Sugar said, “We’ve had a discussion about it; he’s totally paranoid.” She also said, “We already have a little–nobody knows. We’re totally acting like…On the Internet, some fan put, JT and Sugar with a question mark, so everybody already thinks that already.” In other words, she’s concerned that other players will know about their alliance.

Her alliances and her new attitude seemed to constitute her pre-season preparation, along with some mental prep she talks about below. “I really considered working out. I even tried a few times,” she joked, pointing out that she won a hoola hoop contest so she can do that if it’s part of a challenge.

As to her life outside the game, Sugar said, “nobody knew who the fuck I was for 10 years” and now people do, but that publicity didn’t exactly help: When I asked if being on the show had helped her career, she said, “Uh, no.” Warner Brothers and Paramount called her for meetings, but she said “nothing freaking happened with it.” Yet she hopes that with the new exposure, “maybe someone will give me my own show.” I asked what kind of show she wanted, and she said “my own scripted show,” dismissing the idea of a reality show, but then said, “I’d rather just play myself in a sitcom.”

Speaking of playing herself, Sugar didn’t shy away from talking about how the producers were trying to fit her into a character type again. That’s especially true with clothing. While it’s not exactly a secret that producers pre-approve and select the clothing that contestants will wear (that’s how tribes all miraculously end up wearing the same color), it is remarkable the lengths they go to and the control they have.

Sugar wasn’t happy with the process, saying producers “had me running around trying to pick out my stupid outfit. Like, seriously. I’m like, ‘I gave you 20 options.’ … They had me go two or three times and then they didn’t like it. I was like, ‘You picked it out.’ I know you want me to look cute and everything, but I also want to be comfortable. Please don’t fuck me over like you did last time with that leopard fucking outfit.”

While she was wearing clothing that was more costume than comfort during our interview, she said that was just for interviews, and that producers promised they weren’t stranding them in street clothes this time. But Sugar said the costume people were being indecisive; she took them eight cardigans and they still hadn’t decided which one she could wear. “They are definitely picking our outfits for us and making our specific characters. I’m cool with mine; I like being Ginger.”

Hear Sugar discuss her mental and hula hoop preparation, and the perks and publicity that make doing the show worth it:

Surprisingly, man not eaten alive on Eaten Alive

Eaten Alive

Discovery Channel’s happy family holiday special Eaten Alive aired Sunday, rewarding viewers for their two full hours of viewing by ensuring that they spent quality time in the company of others instead of wasting that time doing something else that might not have been as satisfying, such as buying things that have labels which accurately reflect their contents.


Winter 2015 reality TV debut schedule

winter 2015 reality TV schedule

Mark your calendars with all these upcoming reality TV show debuts, including Celebrity Apprentice, The Bachelor, and another season of MasterChef Junior, all of which kick off in early January.

There are also 20+ shows debuting in December--including the one-off return of The Sing Off. No winter break for reality TV.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.