was just a show
enjoyed, but now, it's a fact of her life.
Calling herself a "superfan" of the unscripted CBS reality series, the former Blair Warner of the much-beloved '80s sitcom
"The Facts of Life"
now lives it as one of the 18 contestants -- including three returnees from past seasons -- on
the 25th edition of the franchise that host
launches with a 90-minute premiere Wednesday, Sept. 19.
"I've been so excited to be a castaway on 'Survivor,' I forgot I'm a former TV star who's a castaway on 'Survivor,' and that it might be played up," the friendly Whelchel tells
. "I've been campaigning to be on it for years. Last year, 'The Facts of Life' won a TV Land Award, and I took advantage of a newspaper interview to say, 'I hope my future contains a stint on "Survivor," my favorite show!'
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"It wasn't until a viral campaign caught on," Whelchel adds, that her "Survivor" bid got serious. "About a week before the final auditions, I filmed a little video and asked all my Facebook and Twitter followers to retweet it, and maybe somebody would notice that I wanted to be on the show. I guess it ended up on a bulletin board that a casting director was reading, and they contacted me ... and two days later, I was in L.A. in front of my celebrity crush, Jeff Probst."
While she obviously can't discuss how the taping of the competition has gone for her thus far, Whelchel reflects that being chosen for "Survivor" was "kind of bittersweet. It was something I'd wanted for so long, and others knew how much I wanted it, yet you couldn't tell anybody for a month that you were going to be on it."