‘Survivor: Philippines’ Winner Denise: ‘It’s Hard to Believe It’s Really Real’


Denise Stapley (CBS)

Quick Note: We’ll be having exit interviews with Lisa Whelchel, Michael Skupin, and Malcolm Freberg later this week. Follow me on Twitter (@gordonholmes) for up-to-the-minute updates.

Denise Stapley attended every single Tribal Council that was held during “Survivor: Philippines.” So, not only did she have to sit through two hours of tension every two or three days, (we only see about five minutes, the actual Tribal Council is a loooong process) but she had to keep herself safe.

However, the reward at end was worth it…no matter what Jeff Kent says.

I spoke with the sole Survivor the morning after her big win and had a chance to ask about breaking her alliance with Malcolm, when she knew Lisa’s secret, and what she intends to do with her million-dollar check.

Gordon Holmes: Good morning, Denise.
Denise Stapley: Good morning, Gordon.
Holmes: My morning is good, but probably not as good as yours.
Stapley: It’s a pretty nice day here in LA. I’m not going to complain.
Holmes: Sun is shining, grass is greener, food tastes better…
Stapley: You name it!
Holmes: Congratulations, by the way.
Stapley: Thank you, Gordon.
Holmes: You played a killer game and the best woman won.
Stapley: It’s hard to believe it’s really real. It really happened.

Holmes: The second Malcolm lost the final immunity last night, I thought the million was yours. I didn’t think Lisa or Skupin could defeat you. Did you have any doubts?
Stapley: You know, I did. I wanted Malcolm with me even though I knew that could cost me the million dollars. I did think that I had a pretty good chance against Lisa and Skupin. But, there was this worry about the jury. Quite honestly, I was so worried that I had just voted out Malcolm, and would he still give me his vote? I was really worried about Abi. That woman has been there, and how tainted is that jury? You can’t discount that.

Holmes: Last night Penner said you had shown the jury that you could be a bitch. What do you think was behind that statement?
Stapley: Penner and I are going to have to sit down over beers and really talk about that. I think we’d had some conversations. And with Abi there was so much tension and I was very concerned about that. How’s this going to be taken? I’m not sure what his intention was, but I need to get clarification on that. I’m pretty sure it was about Abi.
Holmes: Is that where you follow up with, “Oh yeah, well this bitch has a million dollars.”
Stapley: It’s like, “Suck it!” (Laughs) That would have been nice, but that wouldn’t have gone over well with the jury.
Holmes: (Laughs) It’s very rare that the phrase “Suck it!” is spoken in front of a jury.
Stapley: I know!
Holmes: Honestly, the three things that make me laugh the most is when women in wedding dresses fast dance, when little kids wear full football pads, and when women say, “Suck it.” Cracks me up.
Stapley: (Laughs) I think you just don’t expect it. You don’t expect it to come out of our mouths, but it does. With my potty mouth, a lot comes out of it.

Holmes: Abi gave you some grief over your little feud. You apologized for hurting her feelings.
Stapley: I knew it was coming. I knew there was no way I’d get out of there without her blasting me. You don’t see the full questioning, but part of it was, do I have issues with strong women? I thought, “No, I have issues with you.” But I had to tap dance around it. We had a whole conversation when the rest of them were off on the reward about our strategies and our strategies were just totally different. So, I just went back to that. It was me just owning it and I had to manage her vote.  I knew the only way to get her vote was to make amends with her.
Holmes: What was your reaction when you saw that you got her vote?
Stapley: I was shocked. Still, she gave me her vote. The woman who I fought the hardest with, the tension was so much.
Holmes: I think that says a lot about her and a lot about your game.
Stapley: Yeah, I think she’s going to grow from this.
Holmes: She’s grown quite a bit, she had no problem owning up to everything she had done in our exit interview.

Holmes: Quick question here, was the merge beach the old Matsing beach?
Stapley: It was, it was the same beach. So, coming back at first it was like, “Oh no, I don’t want to be back here!”

Holmes: It seemed like you didn’t make a move against Malcolm until last night’s conversation where he was so non-committal to your plan. Had you had discussions with Lisa and Skup before about flipping or was that the inciting incident?
Stapley: That was it. That was the final thing. Truly, I wanted to see our alliance go all the way to the end. I would have loved that. I had written out my own strategy before this game. I had like a two-page strategy document. I knew that when it came down to it, when it’s time to jump ship, I’m jumping. And he just couldn’t give me the conformation, so I just had to shank him.
Holmes: (Laughs) I like that you wrote a mission statement before the game started.
Stapley: I did. I laugh, it’s still on my computer.
Holmes: You should sell it to future “Survivor” players.

Holmes: You were under the radar for a large portion of this game. Was there anything we didn’t see that you want to brag about here?
Stapley:  I suppose it was under-the-radar based on how you define it, but every time I got switched to a new tribe it was a big move for me. It was like becoming a guest in someone else’s house all over again. You have to be gracious and make sure that they don’t want to kick you out. So, I had to do this tap dance and make new connections and new friends and why I was good enough to keep around, but not too much of a threat to kick out. It was all little moves. And I knew at some point I was going to have to do something.

Holmes: Alright, let’s do some championship word association here. We’ll start with RC.
Stapley: Strong minded, strong willed.
Holmes: Lisa?
Stapley: Sweet.
Holmes: Skupin?
Stapley: Just…genuine. He’s like a ten-year-old little boy in an adult body.
Holmes: Penner?
Stapley: Incredibly smart strategist.
Holmes: Abi-Maria?
Stapley: Crazy Brazilian.
Holmes: Artis?
Stapley: Artis in the game or out of the game?
Holmes: I’ve heard that a lot, actually.
Stapley: Can I do two for him?
Holmes: You’re the champ, I don’t tell you what to do.
Stapley: In-game, seriously guarded. Out-of-the-game, great guy.
Holmes: Malcolm?
Stapley: Buddy. Malcolm’s just Malcolm, there are no words. He’s just a great guy.

Holmes: The young-uns, they don’t know what “The Facts of Life” is.
Stapley: No.
Holmes: People like you and me, we should know.
Stapley: Well, it looks on there like I was shocked, but I knew who Lisa was from day one. In the mud ball challenge I talked to her about it. I asked if people knew who she was and she said, “No, I want to play as long as I can without her knowing.” So, I actually outted Lisa to Penner at Kalabaw. And he knew her from somewhere,  I just handed him the conformation. For me it never would have benefited me because  I might want her as an alliance down the road. I was surprised that Penner did, that was his final dig with her.

Holmes: Now, I remember your husband and daughter were part of an elaborate ruse that explained where you were during your trip to the Philippines. You were supposedly going to some big conference in Florida?
Stapley: (Laughs) Yup.
Holmes: They have to be in line for a pretty big holiday, right?
Stapley: You know, people wonder what we’re going to do with this. We’re so low-key, we’re just going to breathe. This was our holiday. Just being here and being part of the finale experience, this was our gift. This was our Christmas right here. Some treats may come. Life will be a bit more comfortable. But we’re going to take our time to figure it out.
Holmes: With the way things have been lately, that seems like a smart strategy.
Stapley: Oh my gosh, you’re right. I’m a planner, I want to make sure everything is secure.

Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @gordonholmes

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