Survivor: Philippines castaway Denise Stapley won the competition's $1 million grand prize during the live portion of Sunday night's finale broadcast on CBS from Los Angeles.
"Absolutely, completely, 100% percent. Just going from tribe to tribe, I had to keep fighting and fighting and fighting and reconfiguring what I was going to do," said Denise Stapley, a 41-year-old sex therapist from Cedar Rapids, IA, during Survivor: Philippines' reunion special when asked if she had truly felt like the underdog throughout the game.
Denise added that her biggest move in the game was getting out Malcolm Freberg, a 25-year-old bartender from Hermosa Beach, CA.
"The Final 4, that's when I really thought, 'I am in hot water.' 100% percent, I had to cut [Malcolm]," she explained.
Denise 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 Survivorhost 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.
During the live reunion show following Survivor: Philippines' finale episode, Jeff also revealed that Lisa had won $100,000 as the winner of the season's "Player of the Season" home viewer vote. Malcolm came in a very close second for the prize, as only 0.7% percent of a vote separated the two deserving castaways.
Survivor: Philippines' special two-hour finale broadcast began on Night 36 with four castaways remaining -- Denise, Lisa, Skupin, and Malcolm.
Skupin said getting rid of Abi-Maria Gomes at the previous Tribal Council session was the best feeling he had experienced while on the island. He was glad the tribe would be at peace for the rest of the game thanks to Abi's absence.
Meanwhile, Malcolm was upset that Abi had announced upon her departure from the game that he couldn't be beaten in the end if Lisa and Skupin brought him to the Final 3. However, Abi's words clearly didn't hit home for Skupin, as he actually thought he'd have a better story for the jury than Malcolm.
On Day 37, the remaining Dangrayne tribe members met with Jeff for a Reward Challenge.
Jeff explained that each castaway must race through a series of obstacles, collecting bags along the way full of puzzle pieces. Once a player had all three bags in his or her possession, he or she must then use those pieces to solve a dragon puzzle. The winner of the challenge would receive an advantage in the final Immunity Challenge the following day. Malcolm ended up winning the advantage.
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Afterwards, Malcolm said he wanted to sit next to Denise in the Final 3 since they had been loyal allies the entire game, but he knew the best move for his own game would be to take her out and go to the end with Skupin and Lisa -- assuming he could beat them. Malcolm simply believed his story for the jury was too much like Denise's would be. They both had strong convincing arguments and Denise was likeable in addition.
Denise, wary of whether her alliance with Malcolm would survive the Final 4 vote, approached Malcolm and asked whether he'd consider making a Final 3 pact with her or at least decide to vote together and create a tie.
Denise figured if a tie broke out, she may square off against Lisa in a fire-starting challenge but have a great shot at coming out ontop. Malcolm was hesitant to make any kind of commitment or promise to Denise, which raised a big red flag in her mind. Denise believed Malcolm would've promised her something if he planned on keeping her around, so she began feeling the need to scramble and figure out a different plan.
Denise then told Lisa she was onboard to turn on Malcolm and vote him off because no one had a chance to win against him in the end. With Skupin, the three of them intended to work together to beat Malcolm in the upcoming -- and final -- Individual Immunity Challenge.
Skupin thought having a deal with Denise was great, but at the same time, he said himself and Lisa were going to be in the Final 3 no matter what with either Malcolm or Denise. Therefore, it was good news for the pair regardless. Skupin also still thought he could beat Malcolm, so he kept an open mind about his voting possibilities.
On Day 38, Lisa said herself and Skupin would be better off letting Denise win the last Individual Immunity Challenge over Malcolm. An even better plan -- which seemed to be unlikely in Lisa and Skupin's eyes -- for the tight duo was to win themselves and be able to make their own decisions about which castaway should join them in the Final 3. Skupin was very set on winning immunity so he could create, not fall into, the Final 3.
After the Final 4 went on a little journey to pay their respects to the torches of fallen comrades, former Survivor: Philippines castaways who had been voted out of the game before them, the Dangrayne tribe met with Jeff again. Jeff then explained the rules to what would be their fourteenth and last Immunity Challenge, the eighth Individual Immunity Challenge of the season.
Jeff told the tribemates that they must each hold up a wooden cylinder cut into several pieces. They'd pick up the first piece using two handles and then balance a ball in the center piece. Every five minutes after the challenge commenced, the castaways had to add more wooden pieces to their long cylinder, making it more difficult to balance the ball. If at any point the ball fell off the center piece of wood, that particular castaway would be out of the challenge.
The winner of the final Immunity Challenge would be guaranteed a spot in the Final 3, where he or she would be able to state his or her case to the Survivor: Philippines' jury and have a one in three shot at winning the million dollars. Malcolm then learned what his advantage in the challenge was going to be. For winning the prior Reward Challenge, he was granted the opportunity to have a second chance in the immunity challenge. If he was to drop his ball at any point, he'd get one free shot to put the ball back on the piece of wood into place and start again.
Malcolm was the first castaway to drop his ball, but he was able to use his second chance in the second round when two additional pieces of wood were added to his lever. Soon after he utilized his second chance, Malcolm was the first person out of the challenge despite his advantage. Denise was out next. She was then followed by Lisa. As a result, shocked and grateful Skupin won Individual Immunity.
Later on, Malcolm admitted he knew the previous challenge was a million-dollar challenge that he blew because he got so nervous and couldn't stop his hands from shaking. Malcolm said the shaking would've only gotten progressively worse as the challenge went on. Skupin then began thinking strategy in regard to whom he should keep and whom to eliminate.
Malcolm realized he wasn't calling the shots anymore and that deflated his spirit a bit. However, he thought he had a solid oath from Lisa and Skupin that Denise was going home next. He still worried though that he might be in for "a nasty surprise" that night, meaning a blindside.
Meanwhile, Denise was still plotting her strategy, and it no longer involved being on the same side as Malcolm although the two had been in a concrete alliance since Day 1.
"I am so mad. Malcolm and I could've stayed together and split the vote -- have it be a tie. But now, that's not going to happen. So my head is clearly on the block tonight. The problem is, Skupin is kind of the dreamer guy. His mind is going in 1,000 different places and he might not always see the repercussions of what happens if you take the best of the best of the best to the end. So I have to figure out a way to convince him that it's worth it to take me with them. I am one stubborn, determined woman. And if I can make it happen, I'm going to make it happen," Denise explained.
Skupin acknowledged the pros and cons of both sides. He believed he could beat Denise in the end, but he also would've like to honor his word to Malcolm and thought his potential victory in the game would be more rewarding had he squared off against an excellent player like Malcolm. Skupin expressed that idea to Denise, but Denise kept arguing it would be a huge risk to take because his chances of actually winning against Malcolm were quite slim.
"When it comes right down to it, I would love to take Malcolm and beat him straight man to man -- two warriors fought to a head. He won three Individual Immunity Challenges. I won three Individual Immunity Challenges. What a great head to head that would be," Skupin said.
Denise continued to discuss Lisa and Skupin's options with the pair. Putting the game aside, Denise told them that she had formed a true friendship with them and would respect their decision no matter what.
Despite Denise's convincing arguments, Skupin was strongly considering taking Malcolm to the end. He wanted to keep his word and win honorably to make his family proud. But Lisa refused to play along. Lisa told Skupin it would be a stupid move to bring Malcolm to the Final 3 with them because that would mean handing Malcolm the million dollars on a silver platter. Lisa wanted to win and said she was going to do whatever it would take to ensure Malcolm wouldn't be a member of the Final 3.
That night, Lisa, Denise, Malcolm, and Skupin all arrived for Survivor: Philippines' fourteenth Tribal Council session.
Joining the Final 4 castaways were previously-eliminated tribemates RC, Jeff Kent, Artis Silvester, Pete Yurkowski, Jonathan Penner, Carter and Abi.
Denise announced she was worried Malcolm wasn't going to remain loyal to her, while Malcolm acknowledged his pact with Denise was only valid until the Final 4 -- something he claimed Denise understood as well. Jeff Probst noted that there was clearly division between Malcolm and Denise but Lisa and Skupin were strong both relationship and alliance-wise.
Skupin told Jeff Probst that he owed Malcolm "favors for life" for letting him spend time with his son during a prior Reward Challenge. Lisa agreed but claimed a favor would not mean taking Malcolm to the Final 3 to ultimately lose a million dollars and the title of "Sole Survivor." Lisa said it just wouldn't be worth it, and then she revealed her vote was going to be strictly based on strategy.
Malcolm then attempted to turn the tables and bring light to how Denise was the most obvious threat for Lisa and Skupin's endgame. Malcolm explained that she had been the only castaway to attend all Tribal Councils, while she was also the only remaining Kalabaw tribe member and naturally very likable. Malcolm admitted he had blood on his hands and Denise did not.
In a last-ditch effort to survive, Malcolm insisted loyalty and friendship should prevail in the vote, because his relationship with Lisa and Skupin wasn't just an alliance in a game. He believed he had been given Lisa and Skupin's word, and he trusted in that although maybe it didn't make perfect sense from a logical standpoint.
Jeff then revealed the votes. Malcolm voted for Denise, but everyone else voted to oust him from Survivor:Philippines. Malcolm was shocked and seemingly hurt, and on his way out after getting his torch snuffed, Malcolm said, "Congratulations, Denise."
"Maybe I pushed too hard, I leveraged too much. I had them so driven to finally play the game and see threats that they finally saw me as a threat. I'm just pissed off that I can't be at the end. Right now, it's painful for a lifelong fan," Malcolm said following his ouster.
On Night 39, Lisa, Skupin and Denise arrived for their final Tribal Council session and the entire jury joined them, including Malcolm. The eight people held the Final 3's fate in their hands and were asked to acquire all the information they needed in order to make a million-dollar decision. Each final castaway was given the opportunity to offer an opening statement, and then the jury would have a chance to address and/or confront them by asking questions or stating their opinions of the tribemates.
Lisa based her statement on how much she had grown as a person throughout the game. Skupin focused on the fact he was a returning player and that although his back was against the wall for most of the game, he managed to survive. Denise argued how she had participated in all the Tribal Councils and worked her way up from a demolished tribe at the beginning of the game. She kept making new relationships as she shifted through different tribes and alliances when necessary.
Afterward, the power shifted and the jury then had control of the game. They began asking the Final 3 questions to ease their own minds or seek a little revenge.
Artis indirectly addressed Lisa and Skupin, saying "karma was a b-tch" and that people who weren't loyal to their allies would end up reaping what they had sowed. Skupin then assured RC he had no idea she was going home on Day 19 despite her accusation that he had blinsided her when they had been friends and allies in the game.
Malcolm was up next and asked for an explanation that was not appeasing from Denise. He wanted her to prove she deserved the money without trying to be sweet and friendly to everyone on the jury. Denise argued that Lisa and Skupin simply did not play a strategic game.
Abi then got to speak her mind. Lisa told Abi she had been loyal to their Tandang alliance until it disintegrated and was no longer a plausible option for her. Lisa explained the situation was out of her hands once castaways were knocking out the "evil" Tandang members.
Denise also apologized to Abi, insisting she did not mean to torment and demoralize her. Lastly, Penner revealed Lisa had starred on The Facts of Life as a teenager and she had kept it a secret. Penner also noted one person clearly deserved to winSurvivor, while the other two Final 3 members were like the oxen carrying the champion's cart.
The jury then cast their votes for which person they believed should be the winner of Survivor: Philippines. The only votes that were immediately shown was Penner voting for Denise, RC voting for Lisa and Carter casting his vote for Skupin.
During the live portion of Survivor: Philippines' finale episode, the Final 3, the jury, Jeff, and the studio audience gathered in Los Angeles to discover who had won the million dollars.
Jeff then revealed the votes. Four people had voted for Denise's victory, while one previously-eliminated castaway voted for Lisa to win and another voted for Skupin. The remaining two votes were not shown during the finale broadcast.