Survivor Winners at War: How Denise Stapley can win a second time

Photo: Timothy Kuratek/CBS Entertainment ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Timothy Kuratek/CBS Entertainment ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

The oldest castaway of the Winners at War group might not have a flashy gameplan, but Denise Stapley’s adaptability and strong social presence could bring her another Survivor title.

Denise Stapley is among several winners on season 40’s cast that might get overlooked by both the players and viewers. Besides the constantly repeated fact that Denise survived every single Tribal Council in Survivor: Philippines, not much is said about this strong-willed champion. That type of under the radar positioning might just be what Denise needs to succeed in Winners at War.

One fact Denise might not want people to remember is that she never won a tribal Immunity Challenge. She started season 25 on the disastrous Matsing tribe that couldn’t win a challenge even if they were up against a tribe full of Wardogs. They lost four straight Immunity Challenges, dwindling Matsing to only two members: Malcolm and Denise.

Related Story. 3 ways Survivor: Philippines changed the game. light

What saved Denise from going down with the ship was her superb awareness of the tribe. Based on the five other castaways she realized that the one person who was actually playing this game was Malcolm Freberg. The two linked up fairly early and became a strong strategic duo that helped determine the four Matsing eliminations.

After enduring loss after loss and terrible camp life conditions, Malcolm and Denise were absorbed into the two remaining tribes. She joined Jonathan Penner and Jeff Kent on Kalabaw and they lost two straight immunities! What was so amazing about Denise is that she was able to go into this tribe who already spent ten days together, and she still found a niche.

She only received one vote in two Tribal Councils, which wasn’t the norm when newcomers joined a tribe back in those days. The men of Kalabaw took control, but Denise’s genuine personality and good work ethic convinced them to take out the other Kalabaw women instead of her. She then made it to the merge and continued to adapt her game.

Realizing how important the first few votes after merge are, Denise was open to shifting allegiances according to what suited her best. Once the alliance of “villains” that included Abi-Maria lost their power, the rest of the castaways banded together to get them out, but Denise was thinking one step further.

light. Related Story. Ranking the top 5 players from Survivor: Philippines

It was going to come down to a typical swing vote scenario. Skupin and Lisa were almost guaranteed to be brought to the end at that point. It came down to which pair they wanted to bring with them: Penner and Carter or Denise and Malcolm. It was Denise who capitalized on Penner’s mistake of not wanting to make a Final Four pact. Skupin and Lisa respected Denise and by extension Malcolm, deciding to align with them instead of Penner.

In the end, Denise knew that as close as she was with Malcolm, he could beat her in jury votes. Denise voted out Malcolm and had a strong Final Tribal Council performance, cementing her place as a deserving winner. The game has evolved a lot since Survivor: Philippines, but ironically, Denise could make a deep run with a similar performance.

In her interview with ET Canada and in her CBS bio Denise was quick to mention that she doesn’t have an elaborate gameplan drawn up. She sees the value of coming into it with an open mind ready to adapt to each situation. Even though fifteen seasons have passed, she still looks physically fit with that same relentless determination.

Next. Survivor winners: Ranking the best Sole Survivors by season. dark

Denise’s eloquent yet to the point manner of speech will once again make her effective at convincing people to do what’s best for her and pleading her case at Tribal Council. Even if she does significantly adapt to the level of play, I don’t see Denise taking full control over the game or pulling off showy moves, but that doesn’t really matter. Denise can still play a solid game and maybe a winning one if she continues to let her effective social game subtly influence the other castaways.