To fans of a certain age, Lisa Whelchel is forever linked with Blair Warner, the spoiled, preppy rich girl she played on the long-running ‘80s sitcom, “The Facts of Life.” But Whelchel may change that image forever with her turn on “Survivor: Philippines.”
“Being on ‘Survivor’ has been a dream of mine since the show first got on the air,” Whelchel told FOX411. “I just love the show. I’m a huge fan – I’ve watched every episode!”
Whelchel was so eager to be cast on the 25th season of her favorite show, she pleaded her case on two popular social networking sites.
“I filmed a little audition video, and then I put it on my Twitter and Facebook, and asked everybody to retweet it @JeffProbst and @CBS to try and get somebody to watch it and let me come to the auditions,” explained Whelchel. “It ended up on a ‘Survivor’ bulletin board, and one of the casting directors saw it and contacted me through my website to see if I would come out and audition, and so that’s how it happened!"
Even though some celebrities would think it beneath them to be cast with “civilians” on a reality show, Whelchel had no qualms.
“I sent a tweet to Jeff Probst saying, ‘Why don’t you do a celebrity vs. has-beens version of the show? I’ll be on the has-beens’ side,” laughed Whelchel. “I just wanted to be on the show!’
Whelchel has the full support of her former “Facts of Life” cast mates for her new venture, including the “delightful and spunky” Charlotte Rae, who played housemother “Mrs. Garret.”
“She has always been a big fan of anything that I have done since I’ve been off the show–she’s been a huge support,” said Whelchel. “Nancy McKeon, who played Jo, was thrilled because she knew that I had wanted to be on the show. And Mindy Cohn, who played Natalie, wrote and said she’d be rooting for me.”
In preparing for “Survivor,” Whelchel realized that she was at something of a disadvantage competing against contestants two or even three decades younger.
“I had to come face to face with the fact that in my mind, I was still 25-years-old,” explained Whelchel. “The last time I did something like this, I was on ‘Battle of the Network Stars’ in the early ‘80s. I competed and I won the obstacle course and made the winning touchdown, and I thought to myself, ‘Yeah! I’m athletic–I can do this!’ and somewhere I missed those 25 years where I suddenly aged and I’m now in a 49-year-old body with a 25-year-old mentality. I came face-to-face with the reality of how hard this was going to be, and that my body may not cooperate with me.”
A devout Christian, Whelchel was also concerned about how her deeply held religious convictions would come across on a reality show.
“Going into it, I really didn’t want to even pray,” said Whelchel. “Even though that is a part of my everyday personal life, it usually doesn’t translate well on television, especially in the context of a game.”
Whelchel also wanted to make it clear that she was not asking God for any special favors during the competition.
“There’s a part of me that thinks, ‘Yes, God is interested in each of our lives,’ so if we’re playing ‘Survivor,’ then He’s interested in us playing ‘Survivor,’” explained Whelchel. “But in the big scheme of things, I really don’t think God cares who wins ‘Survivor’ or who wins what challenge. I don’t think He has a favorite a football team or a favorite country, and so I didn’t want it to come across that I was asking God to be on my side to help me win a challenge or win a million dollars. That just doesn’t seem to line up with who God is, and it’s hard to translate having a conversation with God in prayer that’s personal in the context of a game. So, I didn’t even want to pray, even though that’s a big part of my life personally.”
The mother of three did bring a copy of the Bible as her luxury item, along with some trepidation about what most “Survivor” players resort to in order to win the game.
“I was really concerned about the possibility of having to lie on ‘Survivor,’ confessed Whelchel. “I didn’t want to lie and I wasn’t planning on lying if I could avoid it, but I also knew the game and I knew what it took to play the game and I knew that it would be naive to think that you could play the game without lying. Although I was worried about – especially Christians – judging me, because they might say, ‘OK, you say you’re a Christian, you’re supposed representing God and you’re lying.’ And they would have felt it was just an excuse to say, ‘Yes, but it is just a game.’ But the truth is that it IS a game. The rules of the game are, ‘There are no rules.’ Everybody signs up for the same game. I would just hope that I would be able to keep that mindset while playing the game.”
Even if Whelchel had some reservations about lying during “Survivor” gameplay, she’s not too concerned about the cursing and occasional nudity on the show.
“It doesn’t bother me,” declared Whelchel. “Maybe because, personally, I have experienced so much judgment myself, I go overboard on the mercy. So, I have a whole lot of leeway with (my competitors) and I celebrate whoever they are. I have actually really learned to seek out people who are way different from me and way outside my comfort zone, because I find them so fascinating and interesting. It makes me want to get to know them – it’s like going on a trip to a foreign country, learning about something that I don’t experience in my every day life.”
If Whelchel eventually wins to top prize on “Survivor,” she already has plans for the million bucks.
“My brother just started a church in a really poor neighborhood of California, and they have been doing just the most wonderful things, like giving away fully decorated Christmas trees at Christmas, bicycles and backpacks filled with school supplies,” Whelchel said of the Freedom Church in Chatsworth, Calif. “I love what he’s doing and it would be a joy to give away 10 percent to him. Then, after that, I have a daughter that’s getting married in October and another one that’s marrying age, and three in college – so I hope that there’s something leftover for me to start a new career!”