Feb. 12, 2013 at 10:28 AM ET
Kate Upton not only took her place in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition history by appearing on its cover for the second consecutive year; she also may be the first model in the issue's 50-year history to almost get frostbite during a shoot.
The theme of this year’s issue, which hit newsstands Tuesday, put models in exotic settings on all seven continents. Upton was sent to the most forbidding one of them all, Antarctica, to endure with frigid temperatures in skimpy outfits, including the parka top and bikini bottom she is wearing on the magazine's cover. She joked on Twitter that it took her two months to thaw out after it was over, and that she almost got frostbite.
“I was very surprised by the news that that’s where my shoot was going to be located,’’ she said on TODAY Tuesday in her first interview since making the cover. “It was freezing. I’m from Florida, so it wasn’t great for me. When I came back I was losing hearing and eyesight because my body was shutting down, it was working so hard to keep warm. I was thinking warm thoughts."
Forget about nabbing the cover: Upton was happy just to get any good shots, considering she could only be in a bathing suit for an instant before having to cover up again.
“I could really only do it for a minute and then everyone would come running and throw blankets on top of me and they would build me like a little blanket cave,’’ she said. “I really went all out on this. We went there thinking we might not even get a shot, and came back with the cover.”
In between shivering in a bathing suit, Upton was able to soak up the Antarctic scenery.
“It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been,’’ she said. “Before I took off my coat, I would just enjoy the views. The mountains were pink and the water was glass. It was like little ice cubes were in the water. It was gorgeous.’’
She also had some inspiration in making it through a difficult shoot.
“The penguins kept me going,’’ she joked. “They’re adorable, and any time I was like, ‘I can’t take any more, I can’t,’ I would look at them and I was like, ‘OK, for them.’’’
Upton’s appearance on last year’s Swimsuit Issue cover launched her career as one of the world’s top models. She is the first model since Tyra Banks in 1996-97 to appear on consecutive covers, and the first since Elle Macpherson from 1986-88 to have the cover all to herself in at least two straight years.
“Sports Illustrated really launched my career, and I have a lot to thank them for,’’ Upton said. “I feel like I’m on the top right now. I’m really excited. I just want to enjoy this moment.”
Upton has graced the covers of numerous magazines since and landed several sponsorship deals, including a racy ad for Mercedes-Benz that ran during the Super Bowl.
“I think the first year I didn’t know what a huge impact it would be on my life. I feel like maybe I’m a little bit more prepared this year,’’ she said.
Her cover shot was not supposed to be revealed until Monday night on “Late Night With David Letterman,’’ but a copy of it leaked online Friday, leading Sports Illustrated to issue a high-resolution version of it on Twitter.
“For me, I like to know everything, so I was actually a little excited (about the photo leaking early),’’ Upton said. “I was able to prepare.’’