Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Denton’s Lisa Whelchel debuts on Survivor Wednesday night
Whelchel starred in the 1980s NBC hit The Facts of Life.
FLOWER MOUND Lisa Whelchel has spent much of her life in front of the TV camera.
Best known as “Blair Warner” on the 1980s NBC sitcom The Facts of Life, the Denton County resident has since written numerous books and toured as an inspirational speaker on faith and motherhood.
But her most recent project has presented a whole new set of challenges.
Whelchel just completed her role on the 25th season of CBS’ Survivor. This season features 18 castaways in The Philippines where contestants will endure marine-based challenges while competing on one of three tribes.
At the end of each challenge, the first- and second-place tribe are granted immunity while the third-place tribe will see one contestant get eliminated.
Joining Whelchel will be former Major League Baseball player Jeff Kent, as well as three competitors who were on previous seasons of Survivor -- Michael Skupin, Jonathan Penner, and Russell Swan.
“I’ve been a big fan of the show since Season 1,” Whelchel said. “My family has watched it every year, and we’ve even hosted season finale parties. I never really had the opportunity to be on the show until my kids got out of school. When my schedule finally opened up, that was a good time for me to go to a deserted island.”
Surrounded by not much more than fellow contestants, sand, and the Pacific Ocean, Whelchel knew immediately what her training needed to consist of.
“I needed to know how to swim in the ocean,” Whelchel said. “So I hired a Navy SEAL to work with me. That was a good move. I’m 49 now. I’m not 25 anymore.”
Whelchel said she swam in an Olympic-sized pool with towels in her hands to help get used to the ocean currents she would be swimming against.
She practiced swimming under water, holding her breath, and managing her way through deep water.
“I’ve seen enough of the show to know that there is deep diving and swimming challenges on there,” Whelchel said.
Other training included running, weight training, and Pilates.
That helped with the physical challenges the show presented. But there was also a personal obstacle that Whelchel had to endure.
Whelchel is used to challenges, but this one gave her a new outlook on life.
“What I will remember most is the way it changed my life -- knowing that the cameras are going to be on me 24 hours a day,” Whelchel said. “We all spend time worrying about what people think of us, especially on TV with so much pressure on looks and being liked.”
Whelchel, who has been in the public eye since the late 1970s, said she and other actors and actresses carry that pressure with them their whole lives.
And with Survivor not exactly showcasing the stars when they look their best, it was a concern for Whelchel.
“At 49, I would be in a bathing suit and wouldn’t have makeup on,” Whelchel said. “I wouldn’t be able to wash my hair, and I’d be hungry. Will I be grouchy? Will all that show on TV?”
Not only that, but behavior often necessary to succeed on the show was also a question for Whelchel. The actress is well-known for her strong Christian faith.
“Will I have to break promises? Will I have to lie?” Whelchel said. “Those are things that I have spent my whole life trying not to be. Was I confident enough to know that God loves me for who I am, and would I be able to accept myself and be me? But ultimately I learned that I would accept myself with all of my imperfections. And that was big for me.”
So not to play spoiler for the show, Whelchel declined to say if she ended up straying from her Christian behavior during the competition.
But she did say, “I can’t recall a single player who ever got through the entire game without hurting someone,” Whelchel said.
While viewers will have to wait until the end of the season to find out who won, Whelchel can say she did bring one type of victory home.
“I came home with the sense of I don’t have to be perfect to be loved,” Whelchel said. “That will be cemented more deeply once the show airs because people will watch the show and will decide if they like someone or not.”
Survivor airs at 7 p.m. beginning Wednesday on CBS.
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