After tying for second place with Mike Skupin (prize money for the tie: $87,500), she received an extra $100,000 for being crowned the player of the season – an award chosen by the viewers. Plus: she also received an extra $10,000 for attending the live finale. But Whelchel tells PEOPLE that the experience may have done more than just line her pocketbook.
"I didn't really go into Survivor to restart my career," says Whelchel. "I loved the game, and I wanted to play it. That really was my sole reason. I wanted the adventure. I'm really thankful that there were people out there who liked how I played it. It's very flattering."
When she was named runner-up on Sunday's episode, Whechel wasn't surprised. "I really didn't think I'd win," she says. "I was realistic about my chances. I pretty much figured it would be a landslide for Denise [Stapley], and I'm so happy for her."
After 24 years out of the public eye, Whelchel – who plans to tithe 10 percent of her prize money to her brother's church – has received several offers from producers. First off: she'll be a guest co-host for Jeff Probst's talk show next month. If all goes well, Whelchel says the opportunities could lead her to a regular gig. "I'd host," she says. "I'd do a sitcom. Really, I've got a lot opportunities."
But don't expect her to compete on an upcoming Survivor season – at last not anytime soon.
"Oh, wow. It was so hard, and I loved being out there, but it's way too early to think about playing again," Whelchel says. "Playing Survivor is like childbirth: it's hard and painful, but ultimately rewarding. So who knows? But for now, let's see what else is out there for me!"