Lisa Whelchel joins the cast of “Survivor: Phillippines”
By RANDY CORDOVA September 18, 2012 1:48PM
Lisa Whelchel, known for her role as Blair Warner on "Facts of Life" heads out into the jungle for the 25th season of "Survivor."
In addition to Lisa Whelchel and Jeff Kent, three familiar faces will be on the show this season in the form of three former “Survivor” competitors.
Michael Skupin: During the show’s second season, Skupin left the program on his 17th day in Australia (2001) after suffering severe burns. It was the first time a contestant had to be removed from the program because of injuries.
Jonathan Penner: The actor and filmmaker was voted off during “Survivor: Cook Islands” in 2006. Two years later he appeared on “Survivor: Micronesia,” but his stint was cut short during the sixth episode after he suffered an infection in his knee.
Russell Swan: Competing in Samoa during the show’s 19th season (2009), Swan was removed from the game after suffering from low blood pressure and dehydration. It was his 15th day in the game.
Updated: September 18, 2012 8:31PM
For most of the 1980s, Lisa Whelchel charmed sitcom viewers as rich girl Blair Warner on “The Facts of Life.” But after nine seasons, , she focused on home-schooling her three children. She moved to Texas and wrote books and gave motivational speeches aimed at Christian audiences.
Now she is returning to TV in a big way: She will compete in the Philippines on the 25th season of “Survivor” alongside retired baseball player Jeff Kent and return contestants Michael Skupin, Russell Swan and Jonathan Penner, making this the buzziest “Survivor” in ages. The show premieres Wednesday.
Whelchel, 49, called to talk about the show; a CBS rep stayed on the phone to make sure she didn’t spill any beans about the new season. Whelchel, forever a good girl, did not.
Question: You really are the talk of “Survivor” this season. Are you surprised?
Answer: I really am. My mindset going into this game has been simply that I love the show from the perspective of a wife and mom in my own living room. I didn’t anticipate so much focus on quote-unquote “Blair” being on the show. I wanted to say, “Blair isn’t on the show. Lisa is on the show!”
Q: Were you worried about being recognized during the show?
A: That was certainly a concern. “Survivor” traditionally has so many young people, and I didn’t know how many of them watched Nick At Nite. I figured there would at least be a handful of people in their 30s and 40s, and if they knew, the word what get around. I figured if anybody asked, I would just say that it was a fun time of my life and it was over 25 years ago. That was kind of my childhood, and it’s not really who I am now.
Q: What about your age?
A: I was worried, because if you go to tribal council and you haven’t had a chance to make some pretty strong alliances or shown that you have value in some other area than physical strength, the easy vote is to go for the older person.
Q: Does it surprise you that you’re among the older players?
A: It’s a surprise. I went to the chiropractor the other day and he said something I thought was so rude. He said I have a tinge of age-appropriate arthritis. (Laughing) I said, “I certainly don’t have age-appropriate arthritis. I have a little pull in my back!”
Q: Did you prepare for age being an issue?
A: Well, I’m a swimmer. I’ve been swimming all my life. I found a Navy SEAL to work with. I hopped into the pool and I had two towels in each hand, and I was supposed to swim two laps. I was halfway through and I thought I would need someone to jump in and rescue me, and it dawned on me that it probably been 20 years since I’d been in a swimming pool. It was a rude awakening.
Q: How else did you train?
A: I really worked hard, not only physically, but with any kind of mazes or logic puzzles. I hired a sports psychiatrist to help me prepare mentally. I told myself I was going to envision myself winning.
Q: You’re known a person of strong faith. Is that an issue when you’re playing a game in which lying is common?
A: I knew it would be an issue. I just kept thinking I can’t go against who I am, but then how can I play my best game? Anything you do in life, you have to be authentic, but I also know that watching the game, I don’t know if it’s not possible to break a promise or tell somebody you’re not going to vote for them and you really are.
Q: So what did you do?
A: I said, “OK, I’ll do the best I can to be authentic to who I am, but it is a game and some of the rules of life are suspended in the context of this game.” I knew it would be a struggle and I just hoped I’d be able to navigate it gracefully.
Q: Did you pray on the show?
A: I made a choice to pray in my heart and not pray out loud because there are cameras watching. I would be comfortable praying out loud in real life, but it never comes across well on television.
A: There are so many nuances to it. I think God is very interested in me, because he is very interested in everybody. I think if something is important to me, it would be important to God because I’m important to him, like everyone is important to him. But in the big picture, I really don’t think God cares who wins “Survivor.” I think he’s interested in the individuals but not in the game, so that’s a nuance that’s difficult to translate in television.
Q: Being an actress, were you worried about how you would appear on camera?
A: That was a struggle, not just because I’m an actress but because of my own personal struggle with wanting to be liked and accepted, and not wanting to be judged. Personally, I’ve had to work on not being who I am just to be liked. It’s a tender spot for me. But ultimately, it was a wonderful experience to face that head on.
Q: Would you do it again?
A: (Laughing) It’s kind of like childbirth. It may be a little too soon to ask me that question. You know: “I don’t remember those contractions being quite as painful as they actually were.”
Q: Did you hear from any of your “Facts” co-stars?
Nancy McKeon has known that I’ve always wanted to be on the show. Mindy Cohn sent me an e-mail recently saying she’s rooting for me. It’s been very sweet.
Q: So does this mean you’re coming back to show business?
A: It’s so funny you ask that. The summer before last, I went on a vision quest. My kids were all in college, and I had to wake up and figure what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Going through all that, I came almost full circle and remembered how much I loved acting. I came back planning to move to California and seeing if I could do this for the rest of my life now that my kids are grown. Then the opportunity for “Survivor” came, so it delayed me coming to California. But in January, I will be in California. I have the desire planted in my heart and I couldn’t have asked for a better (launch). Gannett News Service