Jessica “Sugar” Kiper is yet another Survivor Gabon cast member who plans to lie about her identity, but more than anyone else, she may be recognizable. As her extensive list of credits on IMDB reveals, she’s acted in many TV shows, most notably as Shane in Gilmore Girls. She also appears in the “pivotal” and above-title role as a stripper in the film Sex and Death 101.
While she was anxious to discard that identity, she kept making references to her time on the show as an acting gig. “I think I’m here for comic relief,” she said at one point, and talking about being recruited, she said “they brought me over for this show,” like it was just another acting job. She was also annoyed for being “treated like extras” with “handlers,” and views the show as the “best way to get my actual self out there.” During our conversation, when I reached over to adjust my digital audio recorder, she even asked, “Do you want me to go ahead and say that over?”
Because of moments like those, I wasn’t sure how to read her. We had a pleasant conversation, and I enjoyed talking with her. However, Sugar seemed alternately likable and genuine, fake and performative. More significantly, she seems to represent everything that’s wrong with recruiting cast members, which can sometimes yield unexpected players, but can also yield people who don’t know or care about playing the game. Perhaps worse, Sugar was initially recruited–but not for Survivor. “Actually, they scouted me for that really dumb Greatest American Dog show … and then they brought me over for this show, and I’m way happy, because this is what I need right now,” she told me.
That’s a reference to the recent death of her father. “My dad passed away, so I’ve just kind of taken a break. I haven’t been doing much of anything. I’ve been soul-searching and hanging out, basically,” Sugar said. When talking about her father, she started crying, and this is going to sound callous and cold and horrible on my part, but I felt like she’d just been waiting the whole interview to cry. I have no doubt that her sadness over his death is entirely genuine, but the crying didn’t feel real, although it was really awkward.
Here’s why: After describing herself as “very super-emotional,” Sugar said she’ll “automatically cry” if she sees someone else cry. And then she pointed out that she was going to cry before she did. “I’m on the verge of tears, like, every five seconds–like now, and I don’t even know why,” she said, and the tears came. Perhaps I’m just skeptical because I know she’s an actor, or I’m just insensitive.
While the other contestants may not know she’s an actor, they do know that she cries, as she said that “everybody’s already seen me cry like two or three times,” she said, due to “stuff about my dad.” The others also know that she’s dramatic because during Survivor School, when they were learning about Gabon’s wildlife, Sugar screamed when “an ant fell out of a tree and fell on my paper.” Producers “separated me from everybody because they thought I was making jokes or something,” she said.
Speaking of those other contestants, she had some remarkable perception–comparing Charlie to Todd, which of course he and the producers were concerned about, and identifying Matty as the “enlightened rich guy” (at least, I think she meant Matty, since she didn’t, of course, know his name yet)–but them again, she also referred to “the old gay guy” (Randy?). Sugar also said that “the gay guy [Charlie] scares me. … Maybe it’s because of Todd in season 15, maybe that’s why this guy is scaring me. I know that I won’t have any effect on him whatsoever, so maybe that’s why he scares me.”
She also said that Randy (I think) and Susie didn’t seem friendly. “When people don’t smile automatically back at you, I think maybe they’ve got something fucked up in their psyche, I guess,” she said. Overall, Sugar said, “I think I have the guys read pretty well,” and her challenge is to “get the girls to know who I am” and “get past my image,” which she said others tend to judge her for. Speaking of image, as you can see in her promo pictures, she was wearing bright red lipstick, pigtails, and a leopard print bikini during all of her press interviews.
Before being contacted, she had “never watched [Survivor] before, to be honest. I read six books and they lent me like six, seven seasons, so I’ve seen a lot of it, I understand it,” Sugar said. “My only game plan is to not tell everybody else that I’m an actor and just tell them I’m a pin-up, because I do pin-ups, too.” She said “I’d rather be the innocent pin-up than someone who gets paid to”–and here I said “lie,” and she didn’t agree with that, but basically said acting.
As her role model in the game, Sugar cited Survivor China finalist Courtney multiple times. “I’m going to go with the flow because that has worked for people like Courtney, so she was not strategic and she was not physical, so it can work. I’m just going to see if I can sneak through to the merge.”
Hear Sugar discuss the type of fictional characters she wants to play that resemble her real self, other cast members’ impression of her, and keeping her “soul clean” in the game: