Fresh from a remarkable 39-day experience on CBS’ “Survivor: One World,” Chelsea Meissner sounds like she won the marathon in Samoa. Though losing the champion’s mantle and its $1 million grand prize to finalist Kim Spradlin, Meissner, a 26-year-old Charleston medical sales rep, came away with a no less tangible reward.

“I’m definitely proud of making it to the final three,” says Meissner, now home and back on the job. “There are not many people who can say they made it through all 39 days. “I just feel like there’s a lot that happened there (Samoa) that’s more than money can buy.

“Just the adventure in itself and the lifelong friends I met. These are memories I’ll be able to share the rest of my life, and worth more to me than a million dollars.”

She also helped make history. For the first time in 24 seasons, the final five contestants on “Survivor” were all female (for the record, of the two dozen “Survivior” competitions, the men have won 13, the women 11).

“Once they split us up into the men vs. the women, I think we definitely looked at it like ‘bring it on’ from the get-go. And we prevailed.”

Social savvyThe rigors of “Survivor” are not just about dealing with the challenges of the wilderness. And Meissner acknowledged that the women might have had something of an advantage in social skills compared with the men, but that it was not necessarily decisive.

“I think it does help somewhat. But for me it was easier to trust a couple of women than women in general. The hardest part of the game is the social aspect of it. A lot of people think that not being able to eat and having to live in difficult elements is the hardest part, but it’s the social game that’s so hard.

“You can go out there and win every single challenge and still not win the game of ‘Survivor.’ That’s what determines the winner and the loser. The social aspect is not my strongest point, and it definitely was the hardest part for me.”

A state champion equestrian as a youth, Meissner, daughter of Ken and DeAnna Meissner, also is a golfer, hunter and wakeboarder. Physically, she feels she pushed the envelope of her capabilities on “Survivor.”

“In most of the competitions, the fact that I was either winning the challenge or a close second, that surprised me. Because you are tired and fatigued yet have to compete on top of that and still do well. I was surprised I had that much strength in my body and that I never gave up.

“You have to go into it thinking you can do it, and then give yourself the pep talks you need to keep going. When you see you can perform as well as anyone and sometimes better than the men, that helps your confidence, too.”

Camaraderie intactIn the end, Meissner was impressed at how the camaraderie among the 18 castaways survived the hardships and maneuverings.

“I keep in touch with every single person on that show on a regular basis,” she says. “We all love and respect each other. Even in the final show, we could all hug, and the finale was great because of that.

“A lot of times people are so bitter they hate each other, but that wasn’t the case with us.”

Coming back down to earth after a taste of celebrity hasn’t been especially difficult. There are not throngs of groupies shadowing her every step. And Meissner, who earned what the show’s producers term “a standard appearance fee,” says that apart from some requests for autographed photos, few are making a big deal of it.

But her influence already has been felt.

“Chelsea contacted me out of the blue in March about an online fundraiser she and a ‘Survivor’ alum were doing during the NCAA basketball tournament,” says Lauren Lipsey, outreach manager for Pet Helpers here. “A big group of her ‘Survivor’ friends participated and raised thousands of dollars for the charities of their choice.

“Chelsea’s was Pet Helpers. She came by with her dog, Tyson, and presented us with a $700 check. She seemed like a great competitor on the show, and came across very favorably. Now I love her in person.”

Meissner says she’d love to revisit Samoa some day as a tourist. But there may be survival challenges that could bring her out of “retirement.” Are you listening, Bear Grylls?

“Bring him on.”Reach Bill Thompson at 937-5707.