"I couldn't keep anything down," she says. "When you're out there, you can't heal"

By Steve Helling
Updated October 21, 2012 07:00 AM
Credit: CBS

Dana Lambert was doing well on Survivor until an illness took her out of the competition on day 12. The 32-year-old cosmetologist from Winston-Salem, N.C., tells PEOPLE she enjoyed her time on the show – but regrets how things ended.

It’s hard for viewers to understand how sick you were. What was going on?
I couldn’t keep anything down – or in. There was a lot of running back and forth to the bathroom, or should I say the ocean. Every single day from the beginning, there was constant puking – and, um, other things.

I don’t want to know.
Yeah, you really don’t.

What do you think caused the sickness?
To be honest, it started off as nerves, I think. I couldn’t keep anything down. And then, when you’re out there, you can’t heal. You’re not eating or sleeping – you can’t even stay dry. So I just got sicker and sicker.

That must have been hard, considering your tribe was doing well.
We were winning. And things were working out well. In challenges, I was holding my own. I learned to swim in the ocean. And our tribe worked very well; I had nothing but respect for the rest of my tribe. But I really was sick. I started the game sick, and I was getting worse for the whole 12 days.

There has been talk that perhaps you threw in the towel too soon.
I’ve been regretting it for months. It was heartbreaking. But if I were in the situation again, I’d make the same decision. At that moment, I didn’t think I could go another minute. I wasn’t getting better. The idea of them leaving me on that beach was terrifying.

But you didn’t even get to experience tribal council!
That’s okay. I didn’t ever want to go to tribal council! If there had been a way to win the game without ever seeing Jeff Probst, I would have been fine with it! But I suppose if I had been voted off, there would have been some closure.

Looking back, is there anything you could have done to stay?
Maybe I could have dealt with the vomiting and diarrhea, but I was starting to black out. So no, it was time for me to go.

You were on a tribe with Jeff Kent, a multimillionaire who played major league baseball for years. Did you know who he was?
I didn’t know who he was. If I had, I would have busted him out in front of everyone. I liked him. I respect him for his game. But if I had recognized him, everyone would have known exactly who he was.

How about Lisa Whelchel. Did you recognize her?
I didn’t! I can’t believe I didn’t. I was a big Facts of Life fan growing up. I always wanted Blair and Jo to get together! But I never spoke with Lisa, and I wasn’t thinking that a celebrity would be on the show, so I just thought she was a pretty soccer mom. But I would have been really starstruck if I had recognized her.

Any advice to future Survivor contestants?
Take care of yourself. Drink as much as you can; eat when you can. Try to stay dry. Because once you get sick, you’re not getting better until you’re out of the game. I’m a bit of a sore loser; I can’t believe that I went out the way that I did. I wish it could have ended differently, but it didn’t. But I’m thrilled to have had the experience.