By Sonya Magett, EnStarz | Sep 21, 2012 11:07 AM EDT
Lisa Whelchel, the celebrity contestant on "Survivor: Philippines," has ended her 24-year marriage.
Whelchel's divorce was finalized less than two weeks before she left to tape season 25 of the show in the Philippines in March.
"The divorce was final on March 1, and [I] went out to be on 'Survivor' on March 10," Whelchel told People. "Going out to 'Survivor' was helpful for me, to divert my attention and not just dwell on the loss."
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Whelchel revealed she was shocked the marriage had to end after being together for so long.
"I just never thought it would happen to me. It was painful to realize that it wasn't going to work out. We will always be friends," Whechel added. "And we will always be family, too."'
Whelchel reportedly met Steve Cauble at a church she attended where he was an associate pastor in 1986. As devout Christians, the pair worked together in ministry after the 1980s sitcom that made her famous, "The Facts of Life," ended in 1988. The actress left Hollywood and began a career in singing and wrote many books. She has become a public speaker and won several awards for her Christian music albums.
Whelchel, 49, and Cauble, 61, have three children. The former couple are friends today and they even watched the show's premiere together, she said.
On Aug. 20, CNN reported that Whelchel joined the cast of season 25 of "Survivor."
Whelchel confessed on her website that her experience on "Survivor" was the hardest thing she's ever done in her life. She said the following:
"I don't think 'fun' is the word I would use to describe my experience. Those days on the island were the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. It pushed me to my extreme limits physically, mentally, spiritually, and especially, emotionally. I'm so very grateful for the opportunity and I'm so glad I did it but I think it's like childbirth...I may need to put a few years behind me and some perspective in front of me before I would ever consider doing it again."
As for her future plans, Whelchel said she will pursue her acting career once more.
"Survivor: Phillippines" airs on Wednesdays at 8/7c on CBS. Episode 1 premiered on Wednesday, Sept. 19 and Whelchel was placed in the Tandang tribe.
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