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Denise Marie Stapley (née McCormick) is the Sole Survivor of Survivor: Philippines. She later competed on Survivor: Winners at War.

Placed on the ill-fated Matsing tribe in Philippines, Denise suffered the worst losing streak imaginable: losing every Immunity Challenge prior to the merge and visiting every single Tribal Council of her season. However, her brilliant social game allowed her to survive each one and reach the Final Tribal Council. Her ability to smoothly integrate herself into a series of disparate and often fraught social circles, as well as her role in sound strategic moves such as the eliminations of Jonathan Penner and Malcolm Freberg, ultimately won her the title of Sole Survivor in a 6-1-1 vote.

In Winners at War, she and ally Adam Klein found themselves at the bottom of Sele after being perceived as a pair. However, she soon found her bearings and during the tribe switch, famously blindsided Sandra Diaz-Twine with her own Hidden Immunity Idol. While her big move made her a target at the start of the merge, she slowed down her gameplay to keep a low profile until the final seven, where her big move made her a target again, but she escaped elimination as Tony Vlachos and Sarah Lacina decided to blindside Nick Wilson. Denise's time in the game came to an end at the final six following a series of idol plays that resulted in a vote restart.


Retrieved from

Name (Age): Denise Stapley (41)
Tribe Designation: Matsing
Current Residence: Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Occupation: Sex Therapist
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."[1]

Hometown: Marion, Iowa
Current residence: Marion, Iowa
Previous season: Winner of Survivor: Philippines (Season 25)
Occupation: Therapist (LMHC, & AASECT Certified Sex Therapist)
Hobbies: Swimming, kickboxing, walks/runs with our rescue dog Mocha, and just about anything else that can get me outside.
Pet peeves: People who go through life with a sense of entitlement and complete lack of self-awareness.
Three words to describe you: Stubborn, determined, and driven.
When did you first watch Survivor? I started watching Survivor in 2000 with my husband Brad.
Do you still watch Survivor? Ummmmm, yes!!! Every Wednesday.... work, activities, and life in general is planned often around our Wednesday night family viewing!
Who is your inspiration in life? This hasn't changed for me and I continue to be inspired by anyone who embraces life with passion. When you see it... you can feel it... and you can't help but be impacted and inspired by it.
What does Survivor mean to you and your family? Survivor is something that is a shared experience for all of us. We've laughed, we've cried... and we've hooted and hollered at our TV many times over the years. It's the one time where we don't just slow down—we stop and are all focused 100% on the same thing. It's our time.
What is one way playing Survivor changed your life? I think Survivor has changed my life in many ways... but not because of the money. At the core, I remain the person I was before, which until very recently included driving the SAME car, now almost 12 years old, complete with dents and duct tape patching. But playing Survivor fueled parts of me that were always there, maybe untapped, or maybe pushed me to honor those parts. It's made me more open to life experiences in general, fueled the desire to travel, and now plays a huge part in our family motto of #GoSeeDo (go places we don't normally get to go, see people we don't normally get to see, do things we wouldn't normally do). Ultimately, it was a reminder that life is too short, so suck it up during the crappy parts, and embrace and appreciate the rest.
As Survivor approaches Season 40 and celebrates 20 years on television, what does it mean to be a part of the legacy? It's funny, this answer should be easy... but it's not. Being given the chance to play a second time is huge in and of itself. But for it to be the 40th! EPIC! The game has changed SO much since Season 1 and has brought with it so many incredible players. It feels like a huge honor to be able to be a part of that legacy (even if I was on one of the worst tribes EVER!) so I don't take it lightly.

How will you play differently than you did in your past season? My honest answer... I have no clue! LOL! Why?? Because we are who we are, good or bad, and once you're out on that island... all of the best-laid plans, intentions, etc. can quickly dissipate into a miserable mess. So in truth, the core of how I played the first time will remain: adapt, adapt, adapt. And hope that the Survivor "gods" are in my favor.[2]



Denise started on the Matsing tribe. She started out in a good position as her occupation as a sex therapist helped her social game, as she connected with Zane Knight and Malcolm Freberg, her and the latter of which formed the Matsing Alliance. When Matsing lost the first Immunity Challenge on Day 3, the tribe initially wanted to vote out Russell Swan for poorly choosing the roles for everyone in the challenge and also barking out orders. However, Zane asked the tribe to vote him out for costing the challenge, but it was actually a ruse to gain sympathy on those who liked him and wanted him around. At Tribal Council, Denise joined the rest of the tribe in blindsiding Zane unanimously as his plan backfired. Early the next morning, Roxy Morris approached Denise about Angie Layton and Malcolm cuddling overnight, believing them to be a power couple and wanting to vote Angie out to break up the pair. But unbeknownst to her, Malcolm was Denise's ally. Denise later became annoyed by Roxy for her laziness around camp and religious beliefs minutes before going into the Day 6 Immunity Challenge. Matsing lost immunity again by a small margin. Roxy and Russell attempted to swing Denise to split up Angie and Malcolm while still unaware that Denise was Malcolm's ally. At Tribal Council, Denise joined the rest of the tribe in voting out Roxy unanimously. When Matsing lost their third challenge in a row on Day 8, Denise and Malcolm were split between voting Angie or Russell due to their weak performances in the challenge. At Tribal Council, they decided to send Angie home for being a liability in challenges. Denise and Malcolm became suspicious that Russell already had the Hidden Immunity Idol and considered blindsiding him at the next Tribal Council. When Matsing lost their final challenge on Day 10, Denise and Malcolm agreed to vote for Russell as they tried to make him feel comfortable heading into Tribal Council just in case he had the idol. At Tribal Council, everyone was concerned that they were going home, but in the end, Russell was sent home.

Before the Reward Challenge, Denise and Malcolm thought there was a chance of a tribe absorption, so they looked for the idol, which Malcolm found first. Even though they were in an alliance, the idol was in Malcolm's possession. At the Reward Challenge, Denise was separated from Malcolm and she was absorbed into the Kalabaw tribe. Kalabaw lost the Reward Challenge, but faced another setback when they lost Dana Lambert after she was too sick to continue. When Kalabaw lost the next Immunity Challenge on Day 13, Denise joined the men's Kalabaw Alliance and discussed voting out Katie Hanson or Sarah Dawson for their weak challenge performances. At Tribal Council, Denise joined the Kalabaw Alliance and Katie in voting out Dawson. Kalabaw won the next Reward Challenge after Jonathan Penner made a deal with the rival Tandang tribe that Kalabaw would give up their remaining rice supply in exchange for the reward. When Kalabaw lost the last Immunity Challenge before the merge, Denise joined the rest of the tribe in voting out Katie unanimously for her weak challenge performances and being the only outsider left. Returning from Tribal Council, Denise was in distress as she has been to every Tribal Council, believing that she was cursed.

Denise made the merge on Day 17, as a member of the Dangrayne tribe where she and Carter Williams won the first individual Immunity Challenge on Day 19. Denise then joined the split vote plan between Jonathan and RC Saint-Amour to flush out Jonathan's idol. At Tribal Council, the split vote plan came into fruition when Jonathan played his idol, making RC the first member of the jury. But she, Malcolm, and the Kalabaw Alliance were then left in the dark when Jeff Kent was blindsided by the Tandang Alliance at the next Tribal Council.

When the foursome of Denise, Malcolm, Jonathan, and Carter won the next Reward Challenge, they agreed to break up the Tandang Alliance by getting Michael Skupin and Lisa Whelchel to flip since they were on the bottom of the alliance. After Skupin won immunity on Day 25, Denise suggested to her alliance that they vote for Artis Silvester as a safe vote against Abi-Maria Gomes playing her idol that she revealed along with Malcolm's on Day 22, as she believed Abi-Maria would be too selfish to play her idol for Artis. At Tribal Council, although Lisa stayed loyal to Tandang, Skupin flipped and blindsided Artis. Skupin and Lisa then joined the Kalabaw Alliance. However, their flipping started a rivalry between Abi-Maria and Denise. Denise, Malcolm, Skupin, and Lisa then made a final four alliance. The Kalabaw Alliance then decided to split the vote between Abi-Maria and her ally Pete Yurkowski in case Abi-Maria played her idol, but Skupin considered flipping on the plan and blindsiding Malcolm when Abi-Maria and Pete tried to sway him, Lisa, and the former Kalabaw's. At Tribal Council, Skupin stuck to the plan as Abi-Maria played her idol and Pete became the fourth juror. When Abi-Maria surprised everyone by winning immunity on Day 30 after she bought an advantage at the Survivor Auction, the final four alliance decided to target Jonathan, but he was trying to sway votes against Denise in case Malcolm played his idol by getting Skupin to flip. At Tribal Council, Skupin once again stayed loyal as Jonathan was sent to the jury. Denise then joined the rest of the tribe in voting out the last original Kalabaw member Carter. She was then spared when Abi-Maria was voted out as Skupin and Lisa wanted to keep Denise around to have a chance at beating Malcolm in the Final Immunity Challenge.

Knowing that Skupin and Lisa were not going to vote against each other, Denise asked Malcolm if he was willing to commit with her to forcing a tie vote between herself and Lisa at the next Tribal Council, but he hesitated to committing to the deal due to how dangerous Denise's social game was going into the Final Tribal Council. This made her suspicious of Malcolm's loyalty and forced her to strike a Final Three deal with Skupin and Lisa to vote out Malcolm if he were to lose the Final Immunity Challenge, but Denise was concerned about Skupin due to him flippping on his decisions and was also unknown to the fact that Skupin and Lisa made the same deal with Malcolm during their previous reward. When Malcolm ended up losing the Final Immunity Challenge, Denise's plan was put into action. Back at camp, Denise and Malcolm made their pitch to Skupin and Lisa to keep them in the game. At Tribal Council, Skupin and Lisa chose to keep Denise and voted Malcolm out as the eighth and final jury member, with Malcolm bitterly congratulating Denise on the way out.

At the Final Tribal Council, Denise made her opening statement saying that she used her social game to adapt in three different tribes and also create sub alliances, but had to turn on them to further herself in the game. She also stated that she has survived every Tribal Council of the season because of her social game, as she had outwitted, outplayed, and outlasted everyone by doing so. While she came under fire for being an appeasing sex therapist by Malcolm and betraying alliances, Skupin's lack of social awareness and Lisa's inconsistent loyalties along with Denise's social game earned her the title of Sole Survivor in a 6-1-1 vote, only losing RC and Carter's votes as they voted Lisa and Skupin respectively.

Episode Tribe
Challenge Challenge Type Sit-Out? Result
1 Matsing Share the Wealth Reward/Immunity No Lost
2 Manila Folders Reward/Immunity No Lost
3 Deep In Thought Reward/Immunity No Lost
4 Swing Break Reward/Immunity No Lost
Switched Tribes, Day 12
5 Kalabaw Idol Hands Reward No Lost
Thrash, Splash & Bash Immunity No Lost
6 Bog Roll Reward No Won1
Philiping Out Immunity No Lost
Tribes Merged, Day 17
7 Dangrayne Wrist Assured Immunity Won
8 Catch of the Day Reward Won
Snake in the Grass Immunity Lost
9 Muddy Waters Reward Won
Paddle Out Immunity Lost
10 Snare the Drum Reward Lost
Push Your Luck Immunity Lost
11 Survivor Auction
Brains and Brawn Immunity Lost
12 Mud Slinging Reward Lost
Fish and Game Immunity Lost
13 Sliders Reward Lost
One Track Mind Immunity Lost
14 Dragon Slayer Reward Lost
The Ball Drop Immunity Lost
Sole Survivor, Day 39
^1 Tandang forfeited the challenge in exchange for Kalabaw's rice.

Episode Denise's
Voted Against
1 Zane -
2 Roxy -
3 Angie -
4 Russell -
5 Dawson Dawson
6 Katie -
7 Jonathan1 Individual Immunity
8 Pete -
9 Artis -
10 Abi-Maria2 -
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

^1 In "Not the Only Actor on This Island", Jonathan used a Hidden Immunity Idol, negating Denise's vote against him.
^2 In "Whiners Are Wieners", Abi-Maria used a Hidden Immunity Idol, negating Denise's vote against her.

Winners at War[]

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Episode Tribe
Challenge Challenge Type Sit-Out? Result
1 Sele Marooning Reward/Immunity No Lost
Blue Lagoon Bustle Immunity No Won
2 Draggin' the Dragon Reward/Immunity No Lost
3 Along the Watch Tower Reward/Immunity No Lost
4 Beyond the Wheel Reward/Immunity No Won
Switched Tribes, Day 12
5 Dakal Block in a Hard Place Immunity No 2nd
6 Rice Race Reward/Immunity No Lost
7 Ball-istic Missiles Reward1 No Lost
Dishwalla Immunity No 2nd
Tribes Merged, Day 19
8 Koru Get a Grip Immunity Won
9 New School Reward Yes Lost
Bermuda Triangle Immunity Lost
10 A Bit Tipsy Immunity Lost
11 Chain Reaction Reward2 Lost
10-Foot Pole Immunity Lost
12 When It Rains Immunity Won
13 Running Down a Dream Immunity Lost
High Step Back Immunity Lost
14 Slide On Reward/Immunity Invited3
Voted Out, Day 36
^1 An unaired Reward Challenge was held on Day 17.
^2 An unaired Reward Challenge was held on Day 26.
^3 Michele shared her reward with Denise.

Episode Denise's
Voted Against
1 Natalie Michele, Natalie
Sele Tribe Immune
2 Danni -
3 Ethan -
4 Sele Tribe Immune
5 Dakal Tribe Immune
6 Sandra Jeremy, Kim,
Sandra, Tony
7 Dakal Tribe Immune
8 Wendell Individual Immunity
9 Nick -
10 Ineligible2 Sarah, Sophie2
11 Jeremy -
12 Jeremy Individual Immunity
13 Michele3 -
Nick Michele, Nick
14 Natalie;
Ben, Michele,
Natalie, Tony4
Voted Out, Day 36
Voted for
Sole Survivor

^1 In "Quick on the Draw", Denise used a Hidden Immunity Idol, negating 4 votes against her.
^2 In "The Full Circle", Sarah used a Vote Steal advantage on Denise, preventing her from voting at Tribal Council. Also, Kim used a Hidden Immunity Idol on Denise, negating 2 votes against her.
^3 In "The Penultimate Step of the War", Michele used a 50/50 coin advantage and landed on "Safe", negating Denise's vote against her.
^4 In "It All Boils Down to This", Natalie used a Hidden Immunity Idol, negating Denise's vote against her. Because Ben and Natalie both used Hidden Immunity Idols and negated all the votes cast at Tribal Council, a vote restart was held between the two non-immune players, Denise and Sarah. Ben, Michele, Natalie, and Tony changed their votes to Denise on the restart, eliminating her from the game.


  • On March 30, 2013, Denise won an EVOLVE Award from American Atheists for representing agnostics and atheists on reality television shows.[3]


  • Denise is the only member of Matsing to not receive a vote before the tribe's dissolution.
  • Denise is the only contestant to reach an official merge without being immune at any point before it and without winning a re-entry challenge of some kind.
    • Stephenie LaGrossa reached the individual stage of Palau, but Palau did not have an official merge. Mookie Lee reached the individual stage/merge of Fiji, but the Ravu tribe was awarded tribal immunity for the fourth Tribal Council despite losing the Immunity Challenge.
  • Denise is the only person to attend every Tribal Council as a contestant over the course of a season. She attended all 15 Tribal Councils in Philippines, including the Final Tribal Council.
    • Denise is also the only contestant to witness all eliminations in a single season. In addition to the 15 Tribal Councils, she was also present for Dana Lambert's quit.
    • However, Denise does not hold the record for the most Tribal Councils attended in a single season. Mick Trimming, Natalie White, and Russell Hantz in Samoa, and Michele Fitzgerald in Winners at War, all attended 16 Tribal Councils.
  • Denise successfully voted out all five of her Matsing tribemates.
  • Denise is the third first-time player to win against a returning player, following Danni Boatwright and Sophie Clarke.
    • Coincidentally, all three are women and received six votes to win.
  • Denise and Sarah Lacina both lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa during their first seasons (Philippines & Cagayan) and Marion, Iowa during their second seasons (Winners at War & Game Changers).
    • Coincidentally, both would compete together on Denise's second season.
  • Denise is the oldest woman to win Survivor at the time of filming, being 41 during the Final Tribal Council of Philippines and 16 days short of turning 42 the votes were read.
  • Denise is the shortest Sole Survivor, at 5 feet tall.
  • Denise is the oldest contestant to compete on Winners at War.
  • In both of her seasons, Denise started on a blue tribe (Matsing & Sele), was then swapped/absorbed into a red tribe (Kalabaw & Dakal), and then merged onto a black tribe (Dangrayne & Koru).
  • Denise is the first contestant to buy an item with a Fire Token from somebody still in the main game.
  • Denise is the second person to negate a unanimous vote with a Hidden Immunity Idol, after Ben Driebergen in Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers. She would be followed by Brandon Cottom in Survivor 44 and Julie Alley in Survivor 45.
  • Denise won the first individual Immunity Challenge in both seasons she competed on.
  • Each time Denise has won individual immunity, the challenge had two winners, which were a man and a woman.
    • She won with Carter in Philippines, and with Jeremy, then Tony, in Winners at War.
  • Denise lost 6 lbs. during her time on Winners at War.[4]


Preceded by
One World
S24 kim t
Kim Spradlin
Sole Survivor Titleholder
S25 denise t
Denise Stapley
Succeeded by
S26 cochran t
John Cochran
Survivor: Philippines Castaways
S25 abimaria t
S25 angie t
S25 artis t
S25 carter t
S25 dana t
S25 dawson t
S25 denise t
S25 jeff t
S25 jonathan t
S25 katie t
S25 lisa t
S25 malcolm t
S25 michael t
S25 pete t
S25 rc t
S25 roxy t
S25 russell t
S25 zane t
Survivor: Winners at War Castaways
S40 adam t
S40 amber t
S40 ben t
S40 danni t
S40 denise t
S40 ethan t
S40 jeremy t
S40 kim t
S40 michele t
S40 natalie t
S40 nick t
S40 parvati t
S40 rob t
S40 sandra t
S40 sarah t
S40 sophie t
S40 tony t
S40 tyson t
S40 wendell t
S40 yul t