Survivor winners: Ranking all 45 Sole Survivors by season

Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved /
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Denise Stapley Survivor Philippines
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images /

Best Survivor Winners No.21: Denise Stapley (Survivor Philippines)

We talked about the numerous factors that determine a great winner throughout the gamut of Survivor gameplay. If you want to look at someone who took the hardest path possible, look no further than the more-than-deserving Denise Stapley.

She started off placed in the worst tribe in Survivor history, as Matsing lost four out of four immunity/reward challenges to start the game.

That means she and Malcolm Freberg were sent to opposing tribes alone, left to be picked apart as an easy vote-off. Instead, she worked her way as an essential swing vote by building those quick relationships and making convincing arguments on a dime.

Of all players to win Survivor, she is the only person to have gone to every single tribal council in their season.

With her back constantly against the wall, a solid performance in challenges (despite winning just one for herself, she and Malcolm carried Matsing towards anything close to respectability) and the ability to play a cunning social game with a solid final tribal council performance, Denise Stapley earned one of the hardest-fought wins ever.