“I’m a superfan of ‘Survivor,'” Whelchel told Zap2it in the Philippines the day before the start of the game she said she was “born to play.”
When we gushed about meeting TV’s original Queen B, Whelchel said, “How you feel about ‘Facts of Life’ is how I feel about ‘Survivor.'”
“I wasn’t recruited,” she insists. “I was going after it.”
So why now?
Would you believe “stereotypical empty nest”?
“I left showbiz to be a stay-at-home wife and mother and just cherished every moment,” says Whelchel, a devout Christian who home-schooled her kids. But when her youngest child left for college last fall, Whelchel said she “went on a vision quest” to answer the question of what to do with her life. First stop: “Survivor.”
In addition to the adventure and chance to win a million bucks, Whelchel says, “I’m really excited about people getting to know me.”
“For so long they [just] knew Blair,” she explains. “I’m glad that Blair holds a soft spot in some people’s lives, even if they didn’t like her character. There’s something about friends you made in childhood — there’s a special place. I love that, but I’m not Blair.”
Nor is the Christian author and speaker a religious stereotype. “I would love to be able to show a different image of a Christian … [Many people] think that — and unfortunately it’s well deserved — Christians are about separating and dividing, and less about accepting and including.
“I would like viewers to see that with all this diversity in the tribe that I genuinely am interested in and care about people and who they are, where they are.”
Whelchel, who at 49 is the oldest female castaway this season, is most apprehensive about “not having enough time to prove” herself to her tribe. “[I’m afraid] they’ll think I’m not strong enough to win challenges,” she says.
Colby Donaldson — a fellow Texan — is Whelchel’s favorite “Survivor” player, but she’s not a fan of “Thailand” winner Brian Heidik.
No one has ever felt creepy vibes from Whelchel’s occasional “Facts of Life” guest star George Clooney, who played a handyman at Blair’s boarding school.
“I often say that if I had known George was going to turn out so well, I would’ve worn makeup to the set more often,” Whelchel says with a laugh when we ask about working with the hunky movie star. “He was not the same George as he is now. He was kind of gangly, really more of a big brother type. It was a lot of fun. It was great to have some testosterone on the set. But he really wasn’t this dark, brooding serious actor back then.”
So does Whelchel plan to keep her celebrity background a secret from her tribemates?
“I’m not going to volunteer it,” she says, “but I think if just one person recognizes me it’ll travel around.”
Do you think any of the other castaways will recognize Whelchel? What are the odds she’ll win?