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Denise Marie McCormick Stapley 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 quickly slowed her gameplay down 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 when several idol plays resulted in a vote restart, causing Denise to be eliminated.


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 and Malcolm, 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 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 approached Denise about Angie 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 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 or 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 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 won the first individual Immunity Challenge on Day 19. Denise then joined the split vote plan between Jonathan and RC 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 juror. But she, Malcolm, and the Kalabaw Alliance were then left in the dark when Jeff 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 and Lisa to flip since they were on the bottom of the alliance. After Michael won immunity on Day 25, Denise suggested to her alliance that they vote for Artis as a safe vote against Abi-Maria 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, Michael flipped and blindsided Artis. Michael and Lisa then joined the Kalabaw Alliance. However, their flipping started a rivalry between Abi-Maria and Denise. Denise, Malcolm, Michael, and Lisa then made a final four alliance. The Kalabaw Alliance then decided to split the vote between Abi-Maria and her ally Pete in case Abi-Maria played her idol, but Michael 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, Michael 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 Michael to flip. At Tribal Council, Michael 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 Michael and Lisa wanted to keep Denise around to have a chance at beating Malcolm in the Final Immunity Challenge.

At the final four, Malcolm won an advantage for the Final Immunity Challenge that included a sealed note he must open at the Immunity Challenge. After the Reward Challenge, knowing that Michael and Lisa weren't 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 Denise suspicious of Malcolm's loyalty and forced her to strike a Final Three deal with Michael and Lisa to vote out Malcolm if he were to lose the Final Immunity Challenge, but Denise was concerned about Michael due to him flip-flopping on his decisions and was also unknown to the fact that Michael and Lisa made the same deal with Malcolm during their previous reward. Malcolm wasted away his advantage as he did indeed lose the Final Immunity Challenge, putting Denise's plan into action. Back at camp, Denise and Malcolm made their pitch to Michael and Lisa to keep them in the game. At Tribal Council, Michael 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, Michael'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 Michael respectively.

Voting History

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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Voting History

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.
  • 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 of Survivor: Philippines, including the Final Tribal Council.
  • Denise successfully voted out all of her original Matsing tribemates.
    • She is the second of three players to vote out every other player on their starting tribe, after John Cochran in South Pacific, and followed by Cydney Gillon in Kaôh Rōng.
    • Because one of Cochran's tribemates, Ozzy Lusth, returned to the game via Redemption Island, Denise is the first to contribute to the permanent elimination of all her original tribemates by voting them out, and second (following Stephenie in Palau) to contribute to the permanent elimination of all her original tribemates in some manner.
    • Unlike Cochran and Cydney, Denise did not need any revotes to accomplish this feat; Cochran switched his vote to Keith Tollefson after initially voting for Rick Nelson, and Cydney switched her vote to Darnell Hamilton after initially voting for Alecia Holden.
  • Denise is the third first-time player to win against a returning player, following Danni Boatwright and Sophie Clarke.
    • Coincidentally, all three of them are women and received six votes to win.
  • Denise is the third-oldest winner at the time of filming (behind Bob Crowley and Tony Vlachos) and the oldest woman when crowned Sole Survivor, at 41 years, 11 months, and 15 days old.
  • Denise is the shortest Sole Survivor, at 5 feet tall.
  • Denise is the oldest castaway on Winners at War.
  • In both of her seasons, Denise started on a blue tribe, was then swapped/absorbed into a red tribe, and then merged onto a black tribe.
  • 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.
  • Denise won the first individual Immunity Challenge in both seasons she competed on.
  • Each time Denise has won individual immunity, the challenge has had two winners: one man and one woman.
  • Denise lost 6 lbs. during her time on Winners at War.[4]


Preceded by
One World
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Kim Spradlin
Sole Survivor Titleholder
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Denise Stapley
Succeeded by
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John Cochran
Survivor: Philippines Castaways
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Survivor: Winners at War Castaways
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