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Exclusive: Denise Stapley talks about her 'Survivor: Philippines' victory (Part 1)


By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 12/17/2012 

Denise Stapley won Survivor: Philippines' $1 million grand prize during the live portion of Sunday night's finale broadcast on CBS from Los Angeles.

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Denise, a 41-year-old sex therapist from Cedar Rapids, IA, beat Lisa Whelchel, a 49-year-old former actress from Dallas, TX, and former Survivor: Australia castaway Michael Skupin in the season's final jury voting results, which Survivor host Jeff Probst revealed live during the broadcast.

Denise received all but two of the six votes which were revealed by Jeff, and Skupin and Lisa each received one vote. "RC" Roberta Saint-Amour voted for Lisa, while Carter Williams voted for Skupin to win. Malcolm Freberg, a 25-year-old bartender from Hermosa Beach, CA, finished the reality competition in fourth place.

In an exclusive interview on Monday, Denise talked to Reality TV World about her Survivor: Philippines victory and experience overall.

Below is the first half of Denise's interview. Check back with Reality TV World soon for the concluding portion.

Reality TV World: So I want to start out by trying to understand what you had been expecting going into the final jury questioning -- like did you go into the jury questioning expecting you were going to win the vote, or were you expecting to lose? And if so, to whom?

Denise Stapley: You know, well I definitely was not expecting to lose. But I definitely wasn't expecting -- it just wasn't 100% percent either way. I knew I had to really pay attention to what I was saying to the jury and try and do some serious convincing.

But you know, leaving that final Tribal Council, I honestly -- there was a part of me that said, "Oh my gosh. I think I just, you know, I may have done this." But you have months after that to think and rethink those votes and think, "Oh my gosh. This might not happen," or, "This could go a totally different way and how horrible that would be." And so, you stop hoping.

It's just like, I just never let myself go to the place of, "Oh my gosh, I'm going to win this." So last night was just overwhelming. It finally happened. 

Reality TV World: Did your thoughts about how things were going to play out change between before and after the jury questioning?

Denise Stapley: Before the jury questioning, I think I knew some of the tension that was going to come at me for sure. I expected it from [Abi-Maria Gomes]. I think there were two that really, I didn't -- I wasn't expecting going in.

I wasn't expecting Malcolm quite as much to have as much fire in him, in his questioning, and I certainly wasn't expecting Jonathan Penner's comments. And so, both of those kind of took me back for a minute. So that was definitely not something I had planned for.

Reality TV World: During last night's finale, you said you would have been willing to stay with Malcolm and force a 2-2 tie against Lisa and Skupin but his wishy-washy conversation with you had convinced you otherwise. Would you have really been willing to do that, or were you just saying that?

Denise Stapley: You know, when I had that conversation with Malcolm at the well, first and foremost, I think what I was trying to do was find out from him, "Do you have any willingness to sit with me in the final?"

And I wasn't getting that confirmation. He was just not going to give me that confirmation. And then I tried to convince him basically, "Okay, here. At least, you can't vote for Michael, so let Lisa and I build fires."

I ended with that, and he still -- you see him kind of laughing at the well, like, "I know I'm just being awful." And basically, the poor kid just couldn't look me in the eye and say, "I'm so not voting for you. Like, you are going home."

Reality TV World: So it sounds like Malcolm's a pretty bad liar?

Denise Stapley: Oh my gosh, and he just couldn't. I think part of that, you know, on the one part, it's unfortunate for Malcolm that he couldn't just look me in the face and lie and say, "Oh totally. We're going. Let's finish this up the way that we started."

But he just couldn't do it, and so, for me that was a good thing because I could read that and know he is cutting my throat and, "You need to make a plan lady. You need to go to Plan B now."

Reality TV World: During last night's finale, you said you had an alliance with Malcolm, but there's a difference between an alliance and a true friendship. Did you mean that, and if so, can you kind of elaborate on what you meant by it?

Denise Stapley: You know, I really did at the time -- Malcolm and I had had this alliance, and there's friendship with that. But the reality is, Malcolm's 25-years-old and I'm 41. And so, our lives and the way that we relate, there's a different level to that. And it is a friendship.

But with Michael and Lisa, I truly -- I slept next to Michael, between Malcolm and Michael actually, every night after the merge. And you know, we would lay their and talk about our kids and our marriages and our families, Michael and I would, and the game and what was happening in the game. There truly was this genuine -- and there still is -- this genuine friendship.

And so, I just knew it was a combination. That was 100% percent genuine and true what I was saying, and it worked in my strategy to be able to share that and say, "I don't think you can beat him. I don't think you guys can beat him. Again, I would love nothing more than to be sitting next to two of the people that I respect. If I can't sit next to him, I want to sit next to you."

Reality TV World: Penner had some harsh words for you there during the jury questioning. He referenced a conversation we didn't see in which he said your biggest alleged concern was that you'd come across "looking like a b-tch" on the show or something. And then he said rest assured that you've now "shown the world your b-tch side," I think. What are your thoughts on that?

Denise Stapley: You bet, and thinking back, I know I was shell-shocked a little bit when he said that, like, "Wow." And we had several conversations about, like, "Gosh, how's this going to play out and what's my daughter going to see?" And what I think that referred to though was that tension between Abi-Maria and myself and how that might be portrayed or how I might look to the rest of the world.

And whether or not he really believed that I was a b-tch, again, lighting a fire under me at that Tribal Council -- they're angry sitting on that jury. And I would be angry sitting on that jury. But you know, definitely, it stung a little bit. But after the game, Jonathan and I are -- actually all of us -- are all on good terms.

Reality TV World: Well he voted for you. That was the irony, right? (Laughs)

Denise Stapley: Yeah! And I think he said something about a flawless game, something. So it's like, at the same time, whether or not that's just to throw things off, I'm not sure. Only Jonathan will know the whole story.

Reality TV World: Penner had also publicly proclaimed that Skupin and Lisa were handing Malcolm or yourself a million dollars when they decided to vote him off and go to the Final Four with you two instead. Did you feel the same way at the time?

Denise Stapley: I think hearing that from him, I think at that point in the game, I was hopeful. But again, I had never been -- I just had never been one to think, "Absolutely," and be so confident in that.

But it was definitely, on the one hand, kind of that, "Okay, this is good. I think we could do this." But then it's like he had just put these crosshairs on us, like, "Take them out, because if you leave them in, you guys are done. You're handing it to him."

Reality TV World: So did it surprise you at all that after hearing that Skupin and Lisa decided to stay with you guys and not go with Penner and Carter instead?

Denise Stapley: It did, but I think they were like me. That's a similarity if you think about it. That's definitely a similarity in how I was looking at my alliance with Malcolm.

They were looking for that confirmation from Penner, and if he had just -- even if he had lied and just said, "That sounds awesome, absolutely, sure," about that Final Four, I wouldn't be having this conversation with you. I mean, it's amazing what a little reassurance will do.

Reality TV World: Penner said he couldn't believe that Lisa decided to pass on a Final Four deal with him just because he didn't make what he called "an empty Final Four promise," I think. Looking at it from Lisa's perspective, are you surprised that Lisa seemed to put that much weight on that and viewed it that way, or does that not surprise you from getting to know her during the game out there?

Denise Stapley: No, I think she really -- she grew in the game. And so no, that doesn't surprise me, because I think she was looking for the same thing of, "I need to solidify something," and he just wouldn't do it. He was kind of like, "Ehh, let's just roll with this."

And he had done the same exact thing to me, and it was after I already had the four. And I kind of did this check-in with Penner, and he did the same thing like, "No, let's just kind of see how things go." And I was like, "Oh, he is so not with -- he's not going to be onboard if something shifts."

Reality TV World: Abi had also said Skupin and Lisa wouldn't win the jury vote against Malcolm or yourself, and they had a chance to vote off you instead of Abi at the Final 5, but they didn't do it. Did that surprise you at the time, and if not, why not?

Denise Stapley: At the Final Five, voting off Abi? Yeah, we could've voted Malcolm or myself or someone. But Abi, it was that time when all of us were just so done with dealing with Abi. And whether or not that could've come back to bite any of us strategically, none of us was willing to take her into the final. It was just miserable and none of us wanted to sit next to her.

Above is the first half of Denise's interview. Check back with Reality TV World soon for the concluding portion.

(Photo credit CBS)


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