She went to every single Tribal Council, including the final one that landed her a million dollars. Now, Denise Stapley talks all about her victorious run on Survivor: Philippines, revealing who is still mad at whom, and how she became the 25th Sole Survivor. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations. But where’s your oversized novelty check?
DENISE STAPLEY: I know! I don’t know if they do that any more. I’m quite okay with the little small one, but the big one would have been fun.
EW: I’m going to talk to someone about that. Or maybe I’ll just go get a big piece of cardboard and just write it out myself.
Perfect! Send it in the mail.
EW: How confident were you of your victory when that Tribal Council ended?
Initially after that final Trial Council, I definitely thought I might have just done this. But then there’s this other part of me going, you could be wrong. So since the end of April I’ve just been hanging on to the possibility that this was not going to happen, so last night was just absolutely surreal because I haven’t allowed myself to go to that place to think that I did it.
EW: I hate it when people get to the end and then apologize for everything they did, but watching you speak there, I worried that maybe you were being a bit too braggy at the same time about how you outwitted and played everyone. Were you at all concerned that you overplayed your hand a bit?
You know, I was and that’s why I said I outplayed some of you or most of you ,because I knew I didn’t outplay all of them and I didn’t outwit all of them, but I knew that I could get thrown under the bus if they saw me as floating through. So in my mind I knew I needed to be confident and be succinct. But yeah, I was a little worried and watching it is a little different than being there because that jury is just looking at you and they’re just pissed, so I knew, just push through it and say what I needed to say.
EW: Were you surprised that some of them were as pissed as they were, because in terms of backstabbing for a Survivor season, this was pretty minor. But people said some pretty nasty things to you. Which one was the hardest to sit there and take? I’m guessing either Malcolm or Penner.
Well, Malcolm definitely surprised me, even though I had just shanked him in the side, and Penner a little bit. Abi was not a surprise. I fully expected to have guns blazing at me. But it’s not even all the backstabbing. Everyone of us out there is so passionate about the game and wants to win so badly so even if you were voted out in the kindest of ways, that was the end of your game and the end of your chance and I don’t blame them for being angry and bitter. But oh yeah, there was a lot of anger on that jury at the time.
EW: What about on Penner’s whole speech, telling you that you were coming off as a bitch. That must have taken you back a bit.
It did. You can see the look on my face, like, Ohhh, what did I miss? Outside the game, Jonathan and I are good friends, but it did surprise me because I thought, Oooh, I may not win this. This may not work. So I was a little nervous.
EW: What were your thoughts when he outed Lisa’s past on The Facts of Life, and did you recognize Lisa and know about her past?
I did. I knew her from day one. And I confronted her with that when she was so lovingly pinning me in the mud during that challenge. We got the opportunity to talk and it was me strategizing in the mud, actually, and saying “Hey, does anyone know who you are?” And at that point she said, “No, and I’d like to keep it that way.” So I knew from the very start and then I actually told Jonathan when I went to Kalabaw.
EW: So he did not recognize her himself and it was you that told him?
He did not officially know what she had done. He knew he recognized her from something but he hadn’t placed her. So we were out on the boat one day fishing and chatting and I said, “Do you know who Lisa is?” and he went “No.” So it was actually me who told Jonathan. Michael knew from the start but Jonathan did not, and then he outed her at the end because nobody else had a clue.
EW: Did you consider outing her at the final Tribal Council as a strategy to get more votes, not that you ended up needing them?
I never did, because at that point I just wanted to continue to play the game I had been playing and I wanted to do it based on my own merits. Whether or not I would have lost, I just wanted to speak to the game that I played and there was already that undercurrent that maybe Jonathan would out Lisa and clearly he just went ahead and did that for me.