Survivor Winners at War finale: Can Denise Stapley win the game?

Photo: Timothy Kuratek/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Timothy Kuratek/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved /

Denise has played a low-key game in Winners at War, which makes her wins bolder in contrast. But with just a few days left in the game, does she have what it takes to beat her competitors for the Survivor crown?

Before the premiere of Survivor: Winners at War, I selected four players in a just-for-fun Survivor draft: Danni, Ethan, Nick, and Denise. In hindsight, Denise definitely had the best odds to go the distance, so it’s perfectly logical that she’s the last pick standing.

Of all the players in Winners at War, Denise has (in my opinion) the most winning temperament. I think that, given 100 simulated games of Winners at War, she would win more than the majority of her cast-mates would. She is intelligent and cunning, but she never really overplays. And no one ever has her at the top of their hit list.

More importantly, Denise never comes off as a schemer. Despite single-handedly eliminating Queen Sandra with probably the flashiest move of the season, she has rarely come up in conversations about who to vote out each episode since. She is quite likable, and no one seems to think she’s a threat.

Denise’s chances of making Final Tribal

It’s probably clear by now that I am quite high on Denise in general. But there’s some bad news. Her path to Final Tribal Council is a bit rocky. First, she lacks any idols or advantages, which two of her competitors possess. There is no real safety net for her in case she loses an immunity challenge, which would put her at the mercy of the other players.

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The good news? She has become rather close with Ben, who does have an immunity idol. If one of these players won individual immunity and the other used the immunity idol, it’s possible they could flip the script on Cops “R” Us with the help of Michele, who should want to go to Final Tribal with them anyway.

It’s a bit of a wash here. There is a way for Denise to make it to the end, but for everything working in her favor, there is an equal and opposite force working against her (c’mon, physics!). Her ally has an idol, but so does her biggest threat in the game. If she wins immunity, she could totally pull a Dr. Strange and change the course of the endgame. But if she doesn’t, it will be very challenging to market herself as a good Final Tribal companion to the other players.

So, her odds of making it to the Final Tribal Council are 50/50.

Photo: Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved /

Denise’s chances of receiving votes at Final Tribal

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If Denise makes it to Final Tribal Council, it will be because she took a successful swipe at Cops-R-Us. So for this thought experiment, let’s assume she is not at Final Tribal Council with both Tony and Sarah.

If Denise makes it to day 39 of Survivor: Winners at War, she will have a little of everything for the jury. She can remind the gameplay-focused jurors of the time she slayed Queen Sandra, and she can also speak to the “soft” Survivor skills like establishing meaningful connections with her tribe-mates throughout the game. We haven’t seen anyone really angry at her, and that’s a huge plus.

The only thing in the negatives column for Denise is the jury’s reaction to her explanation of how she felt “done” with scheming during (and after) the Tribal Council when, after a long whisper-fest, she shut Jeremy down. We saw some unimpressed looks from the jurors, who may have taken Denise’s explanation as her giving up in the game. Not the look of a winner.


Of the five players left in the game (six including the player returning from the Edge), Denise has the most middling chances of winning Survivor: Winners at War. She is well-liked, and her resume has some substance, but winning this season won’t be a cakewalk for her.

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There is still some hope if she plays her cards right, but she will not win if she doesn’t take the reigns of the game soon. Her odds are slightly better than the average with six players remaining, but not overwhelmingly strong.