December 22, 2008 12:00 PM by Ryan Haidet
She made it all the way to the final three, and although she didn’t receive a single vote from the jury, Jessica “Sugar” Kiper made some moves during Survivor: Gabon that no fan could forget. During an exclusive interview on the red carpet following the Survivor: Gabon season finale, Sugar explained her hunt for the hidden immunity idol, why she liked Ace so much, what led her to make certain strategic moves and the connection she felt with her dad while playing the game.
But why did everybody call her Sugar? “That’s actually my real nickname,” she explained. “I’ve had that for 10 years from a 50s diner in San Francisco. I’ve used it whenever I had to have a 50s diner job, because I can’t work at a regular restaurant — it’s just too set and spiffy. I need to be able to shoot the shit with people, like customers.” This 29-year-old says she loves that decade so much that she wishes the clock could be turned back. “I’m not rockabilly or anything. I just really like the clothes, the fashion, the music and everything seems more simple. It didn’t seem as evil. If we could go back to the 50s I would do it in a heartbeat, that’d be cool.”
Not long before her stint on Survivor: Gabon, Sugar’s dad passed away, which took her on an emotional ride during the game. “I didn’t apply to Survivor: Gabon, it came to me at a time where I was pretty much, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ It really needs to be something to help me get through what was going on with my dad. I’m not so sure that it was such a great idea to do it on television.” But Sugar says the experience was a good one for her. “The game made me stronger, the people made me stronger. Even knowing, which I didn’t know Randy and Corinne’s existed on this planet, made me stronger — so now I know what to look out for.”
Sugar became no stranger to Exile Island because she was sent there on multiple occassions. But it was her first trip there that changed the game when she found the hidden immunity idol. But she said she doesn’t feel like she found it alone because she felt her dad’s presence. “I feel like I got led by something to each clue by something, because it could’ve been six different places within three miles. And then I’d see a tree over here, I’d see a tree over there, ‘I guess I’ll start with that one, that one looks good.’ Some of my friends were like, ‘Do you think it’s because you’re an actor and that you may have recognized what might look better?’ I was like, ‘You know what, that is a pretty good assumption, I might be cracked.’ All right, but either way I’d like to say it was my dad, because I definitely did spend a lot of time with him in the hammock.”
Whether it was her father or just actor’s luck that led her to the idol, she found it relatively quickly whereas Dan (the first Exiled) had a difficult time. “I don’t think Dan thinks outside the box that much,” Sugar said. “I had found every clue (the first day there) except for the very last one where we had to go wade in the water. It was getting dark and the bugs were coming out really bad and I was like, ‘Screw that, because I know I’ll be here in the morning.’ As soon as I got up in the morning I went to where I thought it was and I found it.”
With just a few days left in the game, family members were given the chance to visit their loved ones who were playing the game. Sugar’s sister was one of them and the two shared a special moment in which they sprinkled their father’s ashes into a river. “My sweet sister, my sister’s so awesome. She had just had a baby like a few weeks before, which is why she was large on the show — she was very embarrassed by that. The fact that she left her newborn to come out there and we did the thing with my dad’s ashes — at that point, there was really only a week left for us (the contestants), but it really helped all of us to see our family. It helped us get through that last week.”
Another person who seemed to help her get through the game early on was Ace — somebody she was interested in before the competition even began. “Before we started the game, we were sizing each other up and Ace had some of the coolest tattoos I’ve ever seen. Stuff that means stuff, not just cartoon characters or something. I used to be married to a tattoo artist in New York, so tattoos mean a lot. And I didn’t think I would like Dan at all because he has ‘Carpe diem’ right here badly spaced (motions along the back of her leg). I was like, ‘Dang.’ He really is actually a very nice guy. But when I saw Ace’s tattoos, I was like, ‘OK, that’s somebody I could be friends with.’ He was doing yoga out on the beach, and so he just seemed enlightened. He seemed like somebody I would want to get to know.” Although she was tight with him early on, she turned on that alliance and voted him off. “I feel horrible that I killed him so soon. I mean eventually I would have needed to separate if I wanted any street cred and if I wanted to look like I’m doing stuff on my own and he’s not just leading me through the game. But I owe Ace a lot.”
She said that they are still friends. “We took a road trip. He drove me from Louisiana to California and we jumped out of an airplane in Texas. It was really really cool. And then we came here (Los Angeles area) and we hung out with Jacquie and Kenny and some other people.”
Although she felt bad for taking Ace out, she still doesn’t feel so bad about voting Randy off. After convincing Bob to give him the fake immunity idol, Sugar couldn’t contain herself from laughing when he actually played it at Tribal Council. “Really, the thing with that is when Crystal went up and made her vote where she’s yelling, everybody was cracking up. And I get the giggles sometime, and I knew it was coming (Randy playing the idol), so I was trying really hard to hold it in, but I was already on a roll from Crystal so I did lose it a little bit. I feel bad for Randy, but I don’t feel bad that I did that. I feel bad for Randy in general.”
Voting Randy out wasn’t her favorite part of the game though. “The best memory of this game for me was dancing with Matty at the (tribal) reward that we got to go to. That was awesome. The only thing that wasn’t awesome about that reward was Charlie, Corinne and Randy talking shit and complaining about everything the whole, entire time. I enjoyed the food, I enjoyed the dancing, I enjoyed the weird palm wine and I enjoyed that crazy drug they gave us. Matty and I enjoyed it a lot.”
What’s next for Sugar? “Hopefully some more acting work, cause that’s really why I did some of the stuff I did — as like entertainment value. Like the idol thing — I knew Randy was out, I didn’t need to be mean to him, that was just for the audience.” She also says she wanted to cause the tie between Matty and Bob because she felt the fire-making challenge would make great television. “There’s a couple other things I did here and there to make things pretty interesting. I just wanted people to take notice so that when this is all over, hopefully I can make more than $1 million one day.”
When the whole game was finished and she got back home, Sugar says the first thing she did was “go eat some $13 mac and cheese.”
Images from the red carpet taken by Ryan Haidet at the Survivor: Gabon finale in Los Angeles on Sunday, December 14.
Read an exclusive interview with fifth-place finisher Kenny Hoang.
Read an exclusive interview with fourth-place finisher Matty Whitmore.
Stay tuned for more exclusive red-carpet interviews with castaways from Survivor: Gabon.
Other images courtesy of Jeffrey R. Staab and Monty Brinton/CBS.
For other great Survivor news, please feel free to check out SirLinksALot: Survivor Gabon. Discuss on our reality TV message boards. You can also read more about each of this season’s contestants by checking out our Survivor bios page.
And stay tuned for coverage of Survivor: Tocantins — The Brazilian Highlands, which premieres on CBS in February.