updated 12/20/2012 AT 6:30 PM ET
•originally published 12/20/2012 AT 9:50 AM ET
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.”