Former “The Facts of Life” star Lisa Whelchel – who played Blair Warner on the ‘80s sitcom – finds herself a long way from her small screen Peekskill, New York home when she lands back on TV on “Survivor: Philippines.”
The “Survivor” super fan – who has watched all of the previous 24 seasons of the CBS reality series – is a castaway on Season 25, which debuts Wednesday night.
“I’ve always wanted to be on the show from the very beginning. In the early years I was homeschooling my kids… after that I was an inspirational speaker… last year was the perfect window of opportunity. My kids were in college, I had some free months, so I pursued this dream and went after it really hard,” the 49-year-old mother of three told AccessHollywood.com.
Lisa – who summed up her experience on the show with the word “extreme” – explained that her biggest challenge wasn’t what she imagined.
“The external elements, the weather and the starvation, the bugs, that really wasn’t the hard part for me. It was the internal struggle,” she told Access. “The challenge of playing the game, the way you’re supposed to play it to win. You’re going to have to do some lying and backstabbing and hurting people and that was a bigger struggle for me. That turned out to be harder than I anticipated.”
And being a child/teen star didn’t help Lisa when it came to navigating her way through the game.
“You get so raw, without the food, without people who are your support system, without sleep, you’re miserable because of the bugs. Anything is stripped away from you. So even something like the ability to be an actress that was gone. I couldn’t act like I was happy. It was miserable,” she said.
When asked which of the “Facts of Life” characters – Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae), Jo (Nancy McKeon), Natalie (Mindy Cohn), Tootie (Kim Fields) — she’d like to compete with or against, Lisa was quick to answer.
“I would definitely want Jo [on my tribe], because she could be my Russell [Hantz] and I could just kind of come along behind her and she could do all the ruthless moves that needed to happen,” she told Access. “But I would not want Mrs. Garret because I would vote her off… she’s too old.”
Adding, [Natalie and Tootie] would be fun to have around and sit around the fire with, but I would vote them off before I voted off Jo.”
Lisa might be a little cutthroat when it comes to talking about fictional scenarios with “Facts of Life” characters, but in real life, she has the support of her former co-stars.
“Nancy McKeon knew that I wanted to be on the show, so she was thrilled… Mindy sent me an e-mail and said she’s rooting for me and I just got a call from Charlotte the other day and she’s just thrilled for me. They’re going to be on Team Lisa,” Lisa said.
But what about the Eastland School’s most famous former member, George Clooney, who co-starred with Lisa from 1985 to 1987?
“I’m sure he has [e-mailed me], but I’ve changed by e-mail and I’m just not giving it to him. I’m sure it got bounced back to his inbox,” she joked when asked about the big screen star.
Now with “Survivor” under her belt, does Lisa see more reality TV in her future?
“I don’t think so. I’ve never wanted to do a reality show. I just always wanted to be on ‘Survivor.’ And it didn’t even feel like [a reality show]. I would have done ‘Survivor’ had it not been filmed,” she told Access. “I would love to do another sitcom, but I’m not thinking I want to do another reality show.
“I have this future ahead of me where I say, ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?’ I still want to be what I wanted to be when I was 7 years old, which is an actress,” she told Access.
“Survivor: Philippines” airs Wednesday on CBS at 8PM.
-- Jesse Spero