We recently asked a bunch of former Survivor players to give us their pick for the winner of season 40, and a number of them mentioned that they believed some with a low-key game was going to win the all-winners season. No flashy game play, no spy shacks and outlandish lies (looking at you, Tony), just pure social game and under the radar moves.
Specifically, former contestants Peih-Gee Law and Jessica Lewis pointed to Denise Stapley as their pick. "She played a pretty unassuming game the first time, but is very well rounded," Peih-Gee explained, while Jessica said Denise is "a great listener, not overly flashy, and strong as hell."
Before the Winners at War premiere tonight, we decided to look back at Denise's win, and we also found out how she feels about coming back to the show after eight years.
How did Denise Stapley win Survivor: Philippines?
Survivor: Philippines is notable because the season featured three players that had been medically evacuated from previous seasons of Survivor: Michael Skupin, Jonathan Penner, and Russell Swan. Denise's tribe, Matsing, lost the first four immunity challenges, and the tribe was then dissolved. When Denise was assigned to a new tribe, her streak of bad luck continued, and her tribe lost three immunity challenges in a row before the merge. However, Denise managed to get to the merge with just one vote against her in all of the previous tribal councils.
After the merge, Denise tried to blindside her closest ally, Malcolm Freberg, but he managed to flip the vote. After that, they started working together again, and they teamed up with Michael and Lisa Whelchel to systematically eliminate the other players. At the final four, Denise, Michael, and Lisa voted against Malcolm for being too much of a jury threat.
At the final tribal council, Denise pointed to her social game and the fact that she attended and survived every tribal council as the reasons why she should win, and she ended up being voted Sole Survivor in a 6-1-1 vote. Denise is the oldest female winner in Survivor history at 41, and she's still the only person to attend every single tribal council in one season.
What is Denise Stapley doing now?
Denise is a sex therapist, and she runs a private practice. She's also the only American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists-certified sex therapist in the state of Iowa.
In 2015, host Jeff Probst named her as one of his top ten favorite Survivor winners.
Why did Denise Stapley come back for Survivor: Winners at War?
Denise actually told Entertainment Weekly that she was "always waiting" for a call back to come back on Survivor, but she also recognizes that the game is a totally different one than when she played in 2012:
"There’s a huge learning curve. You know, I watch at home. We’re religious Survivor watchers, and there have been times when I’ve watched and my head hurts. Like, my head literally hurts because I’m trying so hard to keep track of things, and remember who has an idol, or what the advantage was, or just to pay attention where should they be looking. It moves faster. It’s just the nature of the game. I mean, they’ve lasted this long for a reason, you know? So, there will be a huge learning curve, but luckily I’m a quick learner, and if not, I’ll figure it out, take a breath, and just kind of keep adapting."
And as for who Denise wants to work with, she pointed to Parvati Shallow and Sarah Lacina as possible allies.
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