She was on the outs of her tribe on day one and compared to a dog that needed to be put out of its misery, but Lisa Whelchel made it all the way to end of Survivor: Philippines, losing (along with Mike Skupin) to Denise Stapley in the finals. Now, the former Facts of Life star discusses her time on the island, including her shock over Jonathan Penner outing her past, what we didn’t see at the final Tribal Council, as well as her plans to co-host some episodes of The Jeff Probst Show. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Lisa, you’re a giant fan, you come on the show and make it all 39 days. Win or lose, that has to feel great to go the distance.
LISA WHELCHEL: I would have loved to have won the million dollars, but the fact that I got the whole experience — from Ponderosa at the beginning to burning down our camp at the end, and got to sit at final Tribal and give my plea I really got to do every single possible thing there is to do except receive the big, big check.
EW: Let’s talk about Penner outing your past on The Facts of Life just moments before everyone went up to vote. Did that hit you like a bombshell? People’s minds were probably already made up before then, but you’re sitting there fighting for your life and then he comes out and does that.
I should have been expecting it, and I don’t know why I wasn’t. But I was actually shocked when he came out with that. So it absolutely threw me back. I think you’re right, I don’t think it affected the outcome. I’m not saying he didn’t affect the outcome, but he had already affected it at Ponderosa with the many speeches I’m sure he gave there which were just as bitter. But at that moment, I wasn’t prepared for him to out me. Now, stepping back as performer and a lover of the show Survivor, it was absolutely what was needed to bring resolve to that question: Did they recognize you? Who didn’t recognize you? Why didn’t they recognize you? So as far as good storytelling, I think it was an important part of the last chapter.
EW: Well, he was certainly performing and it was a great performance, but it did feel below the belt. I wouldn’t have had a problem if Skupin or Denise had done it since they were still fighting for the money, even though I’m not sure how well it would have reflected on them to bring it up at that point. I could see why someone competing for a million dollars would bring it up. Penner, not so much.
I think he was still fighting to prove the point to Michael and me that when he said “If you vote me out, there is no way you will win the million dollars.” So he was pulling out all stops — not so that his favorite person, Denise, would win. But so that his favorite person, Penner, would ultimately be right.
EW: And I didn’t realize until I spoke with Denise this morning that she is the one that actually told Penner about your past.
Yeah, in the mud challenge. Denise and I were there for an hour while the guys were negotiating and she said, “I recognized you immediately. I watched the show. Did anybody else recognize you?” And I told her Skupin, but I said it was really fun to play the game without being Blair or the perception of Blair and so she said, “Oh, I won’t tell anybody,” which of course lasted five minutes after she got out of the mud.
EW: What was reaction among people about that once you spoke to then out of the game. Did they even know what the show was? Were they like “I thought you looked familiar.” Or were they just too young?
They were just all too young. I did get a few “Oh, my mom loved you growing up when you were on.”
EW: I know a lot of stuff doesn’t make it into the final edit of the Tribal Council. I imagine you took some other hits from people that we did not see. What can you tell us about what we didn’t see at that final Tribal.
Well, one thing I’m glad that you didn’t see was that Carter was under the impression that I had told Skupin that it was obviously God’s will that he had lost that challenge. And that broke my heart because that was the exact reason why I didn’t want to even mention God much less pray, because it is so confusing and nuanced and never translates well. And that was a case in point. The reason I had prayed for God’s will is because I really didn’t know if it would be right to play the game or if I should stick to my word, so I was just saying “God, you intervene because I’m afraid I’m going to make a mistake because I have no idea which way to go here.” So I can understand if Skupin told Carter that I thought it was God’s will that Malcolm won that challenge and Carter lost it. So I’m glad that didn’t make the edit, but I’m sorry that even for a little bit, that Carter would feel that God was picking sides like that.