Lisa Whelchel

Facts of Life star Lisa Whelchel — who made her Survivor debut Wednesday — reveals to People that she has been divorced since March.

"The divorce was final on March 1, and [I] went out to be on Survivor on March 10," Whelchel tells the magazine. "Going out to Survivor was helpful for me, to divert my attention and not just dwell on the loss."

Survivor's Lisa Whelchel on facing her fears on camera and why her Facts of Life past won't matter

Whelchel and Steve Cauble were married for 24 years and have three grown children together. Whelchel, 49, has also worked in Christian ministry with her husband since The Facts of Life, on which she gained fame for playing spoiled rich girl Blair, ended in 1988.

"I just never thought it would happen to me," she says. "It was painful to realize that it wasn't going to work out."

However, the exes have remained on good terms and even watched the Survivor season premiere together on Wednesday with their kids. "We will always be friends," Whechel says. "And we will always be family, too."

Survivor: Philippines airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on CBS.