I was never the biggest fan of “The Facts of Life,” a sitcom about an all-girls boarding school that ran nine seasons on NBC from 1976 to 1988. But I learned through pop-culture osmosis that Tootie was played by Kim Fields, that Mindy Coen was Natalie and character actress Charlotte Rae was cast as Edna Garrett, a mother hen to a flock of adolescent lassies. I also was somewhat aware of Lisa Whelchel, who was spoiled rich girl Blair Warner on the popular show.
But when Whelchel signed on as a castaway on the 25th season of “Survivor” that took place in the Philippines in 2012, I became quite intrigued by her presence on the show. It was partly because she was able to keep her identity a secret from most of the other players, most who were too young to know about her ties with the sitcom.
Only returning player Michael Skupin, who was the first “Survivor” contestant ever to be medevaced after he fell into a fire at camp in Australia on Season 2, recognized Lisa and, at one point, he almost called her Blair. They had a tight-knit alliance together and despite being an outsider in the Tandang tribe, she never had to worry about being voted off since she never had to attend a Tribal Council. Lisa wasn’t always the boldest player and most confident castaway. In fact, on first day on the island, she was compared to being a dog to be put out of its misery.
But somehow Lisa was able to last 39 days in the game and be a co-runner-up with Skupin. The player who took home the million dollar prize that season was Denise Stapley, who is currently in the thick of it on the current season of “Survivor: Winners at War.” Right before the jury vote, Jonathan Penner — who was showbiz adjacent himself — revealed Lisa to be a TV actress on “The Facts of Life.” She told Entertainment Weekly at the time, “I don’t think it affected the outcome … but I wasn’t prepared for him to out me.” She also revealed that it was Denise who originally recognized her and told Penner about her identity. Lisa did manage to win fan favorite during the Reunion Show and won $100,000.
In the video above of an unaired confessional, which is basically a soul-searching soliloquy, Lisa has a rather sweet way of discussing her game plan. Here’s her main argument: “I have actually thought, you know, perhaps I’ve come at this backwards. I didn’t intend to be a kind of middle swing vote, under the radar kind of person. I kind of came in here thinking I would make some strong alliances and have some good strategy and be strong in the challenges.”
Lisa continued, “But perhaps it’s not a bad thing because there been enough winners that come that seem to be kind of in the middle, they’re not in the bottom, though it appears I’m on the bottom right now. But maybe today I’m kind of in the middle and they’re not running the show and I don’t know that it’s a terrible place.”
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