5. Denise Stapley
It feels like Denise goes on Survivor just to pull off unique feats. In Philippines, she was known for the distinguishing mark of attending every single Tribal Council. In Winners at War, Denise earned the label of the “Queen Slayer” by brutally blindsiding two-time champ Sandra Diaz-Twine with her own idol! As incredible as that move was, there was more to Denise’s game than simply an epic pre-merge blindside.
One of Denise’s greatest Survivor skills is her fluid nature. Even though she formed an alliance with Malcolm in Philippines, her ability to convince other castaways that she would work with them is really what got her to the end. Denise showcased that same talent in Winners at War. For six straight Tribal Councils, Denise found herself on the right side of the votes.
She recovered from the early stumble of “getting lost on route to the water well” on Day 1. Forming those early bonds with Adam, Jeremy and Ben were key, but Denise’s fluid approach to the game prevented her from getting tied down to these targets. We saw how players like Ethan got in trouble for getting too close to dynamic personalities. Denise used those relationships to her benefit but distanced herself from them at the right time.
Her bond with Adam is a perfect example. They were tight from Day 1, but when Adam tried to pull in Boston Rob, Denise had no problem with joining the voting bloc to blindside Ethan. Once the merge hit, Denise continued to subtly distance herself from Adam and was involved with the plan to vote him out (wrote down Nick’s name in case of Adam’s podium idol).
It felt like Denise wore out in the second half of the merge after she was blindsided in three straight Tribal Councils. The living conditions and intensity of the game may have gotten her. That said, she still had moments that potentially could have led her to Day 39. There’s a scene where she’s talking to Nick and Michele about banding together to make the end. Making it to the Final Three with those individuals would likely have earned her the $2 million. Unfortunately for Denise, she was never able to pull anything off and eventually got voted out after a mini advantage-geddon.
– Finding a Hidden Immunity Idol early in the season
– Convincing Sandra to give her the temporary idol for only one Fire Token before Tribal Council
– Using two idols to checkmate Sandra and shockingly vote her out
– Amassing a ton of Fire Tokens
– Winning two Individual Immunity Necklaces
– Successfully using reverse psychology along with her tokens to casually save herself over Nick
– Ending up on the wrong side of the vote three consecutive times during the post-merge game
– Losing her composure at Tribal Council
– Getting voted out in a revote after nobody wrote her name down
– Not being able to split up Cops-R-Us before it was too late