Lisa Whelchel, better known as the preppy, feather-haired Blair Warner on the1980s NBC sitcom "The Facts of Life," will be making a return to TV for the first time in more than 10 years, but her next role could hardly be more of a departure from her last. Whelchel, now 49, will be a contestant on the upcoming season of "Survivor," "Survivor: Phillippines," revealed CBS in a cast announcement on Monday.
Whelchel, along with 17 other hopefuls (15 of whose identities have already been revealed,) will be competing for a $1 million prize on the 25th installment of "Survivor," which was shot in the Caramoan Islands. Whelchel is not the only celebrity who will be appearing on the show, former baseball MVP Jeff Kent and former Miss Delaware Katie Hanson, will also be in the running. The other announced cast members will include Sarah Dawson, 28, Abi-Maria Gomes, 32, Malcolm Freberg, 25, Roberta "RC" Saint-Amour, 27, Zane Knight, 28, Artis Silvester, 53, Angie Layton, 20, Dana Lambert, 32, Roxanne "Roxy" Morris, 28, Carter Williams, 24, Peter "Pete" Yurkowski, 24, and Denise Stapley, 41. The group will also be competing against 3 former castaways whose names have not yet been released.
Whelchel, a born-again Christian, who currently lives in Dallas, Tex. with husband Steven Cauble, an associate pastor, and 3 children, describes herself as a "superfan" of the survival reality show and says that she launched a social media campaign for herself to try and attract the attention of the show's producers.
""I've watched every episode! Any episode I missed was only because TiVo missed it, then I went online to research what happened," Whelchel told US Weekly.
"I've watched it from the very first episode, and had Survivor parties with my family," Whelchel added in a separate interview with Entertainment Weekly. "A friend of mine said, 'Let's just film a little iPhone video of you and you can put it on your Twitter and ask all your followers to retweet it. And maybe they'll contact you and know you want to be on the show.' And that's what happened!"
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When asked beforehand how she might deal with her past celebrity on the show, Whelchel said that she didn't plan to advertise it, but added that if it became known she wouldn't try to hide it. "I'm not going to volunteer it, but at the same time, even though there are a lot of young people and I'm sure they have no idea who Blair Warner is, there are some older people," said Whelchel. "Even if only one knows it certainly will get around, so I won't deny it."
Although Whelchel claimed before the contest began that she was "born to play," competing on the show turned out to be more difficult than she may have anticipated. On her personal website, Whelchel describes her time filming "Survivor," as "the hardest thing I've ever done in my life."
"I don't think "fun" is the word I would use to describe my experience," wrote Whelchel. "It pushed me to my extreme limits physically, mentally, spiritually, and especially, emotionally. I'm so very grateful for the opportunity and I'm so glad I did it but I think it's like childbirth...I may need to put a few years behind me and some perspective in front of me before I would ever consider doing it again."
The new season of "Survivor" will kick off with a special 90-minute episode on Sept. 19, at 8pm ET.