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Denise Stapley

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Denise Stapley
S25 Denise Stapley
Contestant Profile
Birth Date January 1, 1971 (1971-01-01) (age 43)
Hometown Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Occupation Sex Therapist


Tribe(s) ██ Matsing
██ Dangrayne
Placement Winner
Alliance(s) Matsing Alliance
Kalabaw Alliance (affiliated)
Challenge(s) Won 4
Vote(s) Against 6
Day(s) Lasted 39

Denise Marie McCormick Stapley is the Sole Survivor of Survivor: Philippines.

Placed on the ill-fated Matsing tribe, Denise suffered the worst losing streak imaginable: losing every pre-merge Immunity Challenge and visiting every single Tribal Council of her season. However, her brilliant social game allowed her to survive every one, making her way to the final 3 as she earned her the Jury's respect, winning her the title of Sole Survivor.


Retrieved from
Personal Claim to Fame: The decision to leave the safety and stability of my previous job to open my own business is without a doubt my proudest accomplishment. It took planning and preparation to make that transition smooth and successful. It also took some serious courage to risk the financial security I had.
Inspiration in Life: At this point in my life, I struggle to identify any one hero, but a hero in my eyes is someone who follows their passion.
Hobbies: Sprint triathlons, reading and playing dress up/goofing off with my kiddo.
Pet Peeves: My number one pet peeve is laziness and people who expect that change will happen without them having to put in any real level of effort. Life is what you make it folks... dig deep!
3 Words to Describe You: Determined, energetic and goofy.
If You Could Have 3 Things on The Island What Would They Be and Why?
1) A seriously sturdy jogging bra – no one needs to see my 40 year-old ta-ta’s dangling out. This is for function, not fashion.
2) My baseball cap or pink dew rag – sheer comfort and a reflection of who I really am.
3) My favorite picture of my husband and daughter for motivation and connection with them.
SURVIVOR Contestant You Are Most Like: I really like Stephenie from “Survivor: Palau.” If that wasn’t “digging deep” I don’t know what is. She has sheer will power and determination. That is what drives me.
Reason for Being on SURVIVOR: Believe it or not, for the experience!
Why You Think You’ll “Survive” SURVIVOR: At work, I have to be able to engage and connect on some level with every person who walks through my door. I’m also a worker bee who will seek out ways to help camp life run smoothly.
Why You Think You Will Be the Sole SURVIVOR: I have a job that requires the ability to engage people to share very personal information and gain their trust to know it will remain confidential. Survivor will require that same skill set and honestly, I’m good at it. My motto in business, life and now Survivor is “keep it simple, keep it smart.”

Survivor: PhilippinesEdit

Denise started out on the blue Matsing tribe along with fellow new castaways Malcolm Freberg, Zane Knight, Angie Layton, and Roxy Morris. They were joined by returning player Russell Swan.

On the Matsing tribe, Denise was a hard worker around camp and a strong challenge competitor. As a therapist, she was interested in everyone's individual stories and quickly formed strong social connections with everyone - most notably Malcolm. The two would come together to form a power alliance and would later bring Angie in as an affiliate. When Matsing lost the first Immunity Challenge, the tribe would come together to vote out Zane over Russell in a 5-1 vote, for his openness about his duplicity of making multiple alliances on Day 3, lack of athleticism, and asking to be voted off.

Denise, along with Russell and Roxy, began to worry that Malcolm and Angie were getting too close together and needed to be separated, because Survivor's strongest alliances were couples. However, Roxy proved to be lazy around camp, which also infuriated Denise. At the Immunity Challenge, both Angie and Roxy performed horribly, which contributed to Matsing's second loss in a row. Denise quickly found herself as a swing vote between voting either Roxy or Angie out. At the end of the day, she trusted her ally Malcolm and both her and Russell voted Roxy out in a 4-1 vote on Day 6, keeping Angie in the game.

At the next Immunity Challenge, Denise performed very well, partaking in 3 out of 8 dives (Malcolm also did 3, while Angie and Russell both did 1). Despite catching Matsing up from both Angie and Russell's earlier mistakes, Matsing still lost and had to go to tribal for their third time. Extremely upset, both Denise and Malcolm had to decide who to vote out: Angie or Russell. Denise wanted Angie gone, thinking that Russell would be better suited for future challenges. Denise got her way and Angie was voted out in a 3-1 vote on Day 8.

Desperate for a win, Matsing strove to hopefully win a challenge, but luck was not on their side, as the paltry tribe of three lost for the fourth straight time. Denise and Malcolm were concerned that Russell already found the Hidden Immunity Idol. They both devised a plan to make Russell feel safe so he won't play it if he has it. Denise sat down with Russell and had a conversation over how Russell used to be bullied, which got Russell on her side. However, despite gaining Russell's trust, she cut him at the next Tribal Council and sent him home over Malcolm in a 2-1 vote on Day 10.

With only two people left on Matsing while both Kalabaw and Tandang still fully intact, Malcolm and Denise anticipated that their tribe would be dissolved and the two of them would be separated. With the Matsing idol still undiscovered, the two hurriedly scoured the whole camp during what they thought was the last time they will be staying at Matsing camp. After all their efforts, Malcolm realized that the handle of the lid of the tribe's rice container was the idol, thus having the right to keep it for himself, leaving Denise in trouble should a dissolve occur. Denise's premonitions proved to be correct, as she and Malcolm were separated before the Day 11 Reward Challenge. Malcolm joined the Tandang tribe, while Denise joined the Kalabaw tribe. Tandang won the Reward Challenge, leaving Denise still winless.

Now at Kalabaw, Denise discovered that the tribe was divided into gender-based alliances, and found herself as the swing vote. The next day, Denise witnessed Kalabaw's first casualty in Dana Lambert, who left the game due to medical reasons. After losing the Day 13 Immunity Challenge, Dawson and Katie, who both contributed the least in challenge efforts, were targeted, prompting the all-male alliance to convince the more athletic Denise to join them. At Tribal Council, while Denise received a vote from Dawson, Dawson took the fall after a 5-1 vote. 

Kalabaw won a Reward Challenge by default after a deal made between returning players Penner and Michael in which Kalabaw gets the reward so that Tandang may get their rice, accumulating in Denise's first victory. Back at camp, Denise and Katie Hanson flirted with the idea of getting rid of Penner and his Hidden Immunity Idol. When Kalabaw lost immunity again, Denise decided to side with the men once again and vote off Katie in a 4-1 vote.

The next day, the tribes moved to the abandoned Matsing camp for the merge, reuniting Denise with her ally Malcolm. Denise won immunity for women and for the first time in 19 days, she was safe from Tribal Council. Back at camp, Michael and R.C. Saint-Amour were ready to jump ship and join Kalabaw, after being ostracized by their fellow Tandang tribemates. R.C. and Mike want to target Pete Yurkowski, as they saw him as the leader of the other alliance. However, Jeff and Carter are ready to blindside their ally Jonathan for being a returning player and possessing their Hidden Immunity Idol. A plan devised by Malcolm involved everyone splitting their votes between Penner and R.C. to flush out Penner's idol and get rid of R.C. Denise went along with Plan B. Sensing trouble, Jonathan played his idol, and R.C. was blindsided in a 4-2-0 vote.

Voting HistoryEdit

Denise's Voting History
Episode Denise's
Voted Against
1 Zane -
2 Roxanne -
3 Angie -
4 Russell -
5 No Tribal Council
Dawson Dawson
6 Katie -
7 Jonathan Individual Immunity
8 Pete -
9 Artis -
10 Abi-Maria -
11 Jonathan Abi-Maria,
Carter, Jonathan
12 Carter -
13 Abi-Maria Abi-Maria
14 Malcolm Malcolm
Jury Votes
for Denise
Abi-Maria, Artis, Jeff,
Jonathan, Malcolm, Pete
Sole Survivor, Day 39


  • On March 30, 2013, Denise won an EVOLVE Award, for representing the agnostics and atheists on reality television shows.[1]


  • Denise is the only contestant to attend every Tribal Council over the course of a season as a contestant and not a Jury member.
    • She was also a part of every tribe that went to Tribal Council, as Tandang never went to Tribal Council.
    • Denise is tied with Russell Hantz, Mick Trimming, and Natalie White for most Tribal Councils attended in a single season with 14, 15 if the Final Tribal Council is counted
  • She is the only contestant in the history of Survivor to hear Jeff welcome contestants for their first visit at tribal council three times in the same season.
  • Denise was on a tribe with every castaway in Philippines at some point.
  • Denise successfully voted off every member of her original Matsing tribe.
    • She is the only contestant to successfully vote off every member of their original tribe.
    • She was the Matsing member that went the farthest in the game without receiving a vote against her.
  • She is the third contestant in their first season of Survivor to defeat a returning player (Michael Skupin) at the Final Tribal Council, after Danni Boatwright (defeated Stephenie LaGrossa in Survivor: Guatemala) and Sophie Clarke (defeated Coach Wade in Survivor: South Pacific).
    • Coincidentally, all three of them are female and received six votes to win.
  • Denise is the oldest female winner when crowned Sole Survivor at 41 years, 11 days old, as well as the second-oldest winner upon being crowned overall, behind Bob Crowley who was 57 when he won.
  • She is the second winner to get her check at the Reunion Show, following Sophie Clarke. She would later be succeeded by John Cochran and Tyson Apostol.
  • Denise was the first contestant to be present at the elimination of every contestant during a single season.
  • Denise was only immune from getting voted out once when she won the first individual immunity challenge.
  • Denise is the shortest Sole Survivor, at 5'0.
  • Denise is the only Sole Survivor post-Heroes vs Villains to win her season but not win the Final Immunity Challenge.
  • Denise was the only woman to make the merge in Survivor: Philippines and not be a member of the original Tandang .


External linksEdit

Preceded by
Kim Spradlin
Sole Survivor Titleholder
Succeeded by
John Cochran
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