Jessica deBen, a fashion stylist from Lousiana, received the dubious honor last night of being the first contestant voted off of Survivor: Fiji. Jessica did little wrong, and there was no ill will toward her from any of her fellow tribemates; sometimes, that’s just the way things work out. Someone has to be the first voted off.
Jessica was kind enough to sit down and talk with us at BuddyTV earlier today about her all-too-short stint on Survivor. We discussed her previous brush with reality TV, what goes on behind the scenes on Survivor, and how surprised she really was at tribal council.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved with Survivor?
I think I was just at the right place at the right time. And someone approached me; someone who was in casting for the show saw me at a fashion show at Fashion Week in LA and it just kind of went from there. I was really interested in doing the application process and I made it through semi-finals and finals. It was pretty exciting.
Had you been a fan of the show beforehand?
It’s sort of a long story, but it became a small word because I think it was four or five years ago, I almost went on Big Brother when they had the Ex’s twist, like your ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend would surprise you on Big Brother. And my ex-boyfriend called me before I went into the house and said, “I’m going to go into the house.” And I backed out, I said, “Now, I know what you guys are doing and I’m not going to do it.” And it ended up being the same casting director in the end, so I felt they kind of knew my personality, which maybe helped and maybe they kind of remembered that thing, the snafu from Big Brother.
Going into the show, what were your expectations? Did you have a game plan going in?
Yeah, I did. I studied up on Survivor strategy for months in advance. I don’t even own a TV but I started watching the show religiously and, you know, wasn’t going out on weekends with my friends, which was bizarre. And my strategy before I even met anyone, but on the plane, I knew I wanted to be aligned with Gary [Stritesky], who everybody nicknamed Papa Smirf. And also Lisi [Linares], who they didn’t really show a lot in the first episode but she was kind of a standout on the plane. You know, she was wearing some glittery high-heeled boots and she just looked really like the standout character. And then once we got split up, they weren’t even an option on my tribe. And once I met Erica [Durousseau], who was also from Louisiana, we bonded. And James [Reid], aka Rocky, I mean, he bonded with us too, so luckily we were on the same tribe.
They don’t show a lot, and fans don’t really know, but can you go through the process of getting to the island? You don’t know where you’re going beforehand, right?
No, you have no idea. When you get on the plane in LA you have no idea where you’re going, which is pretty nerve-racking and I guess just the fact that one castaway quit before even getting on the boat to go to the island, I mean that just shows it’s a pretty intimidating process.
How did that situation work out? Did you see that castaway before you left on the boat?
We saw her on the plane and then once we got on the boat we knew she wasn’t there. But all this time you can’t talk to the other castaways. They don’t want you forming alliances before you even get on the show. So, we end up on the island and then there’s all these rumors circulating. You know, some people had a theory that maybe she was a spy and she was trying to find out who was going to be on the show and then they found out. I mean there was just all these bizarre ideas about who she was and why she was there for a second and then not there the next second.
What were your very first thoughts when you got to the island – there were 19 of you, Jeff Probst isn’t there, and you are just all exploring – what’s going through your mind at that point?
I thought, we have too much freedom. And, where is Jeff?
Was there some confusion amongst the contestants or was everyone taking it in stride?
No, there was major confusion. I don’t think people were taking it in stride at all. But people were confused, and then we just went to explore the island because we didn’t know what else to do. We thought we would find Jeff, you know, by running around, which we didn’t.
They went through it a little quick, but they showed you guys building all the shelters once you got to camp. How was that experience? Was Sylvia [Kwan] the overlord or was that portrayal overblown?
Sylvia wasn’t at all an overlord. I had a lot of respect for Sylvia because she could have been very bossy and there was a point where some people were building and there were at least 11 people who went off to explore the island while everyone else was building. And Sylvia could have really fussed and said, “Hey guys, we’re going to get rained on,” which we did. And she didn’t. I think Sylvia had a lot of self-control and was really classy about the fact that she had the knowledge and we didn’t.
Another thing about Sylvia is, when she was picked to divvy up the teams, was the general feeling that she did a good job and that she did it fairly?
No, that wasn’t the general feeling, but the main thing I was glad about was that she split up Rocky and Dreamz.
The show sort of portrayed the splitting of the tribes as fair. What did everyone see as unfair about it?
Well, everybody could see that Sylvia and Cassandra [Franklin] were bonded. And I think some people were afraid that we weren’t on Cassandra’s team, because we thought she might stack the odds. Whatever team Cassandra’s on is the team that you want to be on and of course, half of us weren’t on that team.
When you got on the island, what stood out as the most unexpected aspect of being there?
The lack of privacy, because you feel nervous even going off to go to the bathroom because, when you do, that’s when people are talking and formulating a plan to vote you off. At least that was my experience.
Were there any editing omissions regarding yourself that you wish they’d shown last night that they didn’t?
Um, no, I thought they showed the good parts. You know, it was only three days and I thought they did an excellent job.
At the tribal council, did you have any feeling that you might be targeted or were you pretty confident?
No, I was pretty confident. You know, I trusted the people who told me it was going to be Rita and that was it. I mean, I didn’t see coming. Although, then when I watch it, it’s like, yeah, that made sense, but not at the time.
Another thing about the tribal council is that there were four different votes for four different people. Do you have any idea where that came from?
I think it got to be kind of a personal thing. As far as Rocky and Erica not wanting to put my name down, which I though was really sweet, it was good to see that that didn’t happen. I think maybe it was more of a personal thing, like each one just kind of went their own way and just put something down.
One last question: What’s going on with you in the future, personally?
Oh, I have a great gig coming up! It’s a make-up job and it’s with a big cosmetic company and I’ll be doing makeup touch-ups at the Oscars at the end of this month in LA, so I cannot wait to get back to Los Angeles.