updated 04/26/2005 AT 2:00 PM ET
•originally published 05/02/2005 AT 6:30 PM ET
Stephenie LaGrossa proved to be the toughest member of Survivor: Palau’s Ulong tribe – she outlasted every one of her teammates and even fended for herself in their desolate camp. But the Philadelphia pharmaceutical sales rep’s strength made her a threat when she joined the Koror tribe. Ultimately, Koror voted her off, and she became the third member of the jury that will choose Survivor’s $1 million winner. LaGrossa, 25, recently talked to PEOPLE about making it on her own, getting love letters – and why she can’t wait for next season.
Were you surprised by how far you got?
I did question myself without food, without sleep and being away from home for so long. I was a little nervous, but after all was said and done, I had no regrets. I was really proud.
Before you started, you did some weight training and gained 8 lbs. Did that help you?
I think it did help. I still had some muscle tone left at the end, which is amazing because everyone else normally gets so thin. I ended up losing between 10 and 15 lbs., which is a lot for me, but I could still compete physically.
Was it hard to put the weight back on?
I’m still kind of trying to get healthy. Your body goes through all this stuff: Your ankles swell; I’ll get a hot flash out of nowhere and I’m like, ‘What the heck is that? I’m not going through menopause!’ My hair fell out a lot. Our feet were in serious agony because you are constantly wet with the sand rubbing with your sneakers.
What did you learn about yourself on the island?
I learned that no matter how deprived I am of anything, if I keep a strong mind, I can pretty much do anything.
What was in the letters you received from friends and family?
My boyfriend kissed his letter with, I think, eye shadow he found at my house, because it was orange! He wrote, “Here’s a kiss from me to you with your own lipstick – or at least I think it’s lipstick.” I was laughing so hard!
What are you up to now?
I’m back into pharmaceuticals and I’m open to anything. I want to tell my story and I want to talk to kids. I know I have a big following among children, which is so neat.
Has the experience made you more of a fan of the show?
Definitely. You are a part of this Survivor family. I hope there are more seasons to come because I am totally going to watch and give my two cents. Rob and Amber – I love them! I hope they win The Amazing Race.