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[Warning: Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen Sunday night’s episode.]
Survivor crowned its latest $1 million winner on Sunday night.
Denise Stapley, a 41-year-old sex therapist from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, beat out professional speaker/author/coach Michael Skupin and former Facts of Life star Lisa Whelchel to earn the title of Sole Survivor in the show’s 25th cycle. Upon winning Survivor: Philippines, Denise becomes the show’s 24th winner overall (Sandra Diaz-Twine won twice). Bartender Malcolm Freberg came in fourth place.
Also during the live finale, host Jeff Probst announced that Lisa was named the fan-voted player of the season, earning her a $100,000 prize. She beat Malcolm by less than 1 percent of the vote.
What does Denise plan to do with her $1 million?
“I’m going to take my time and breathe, and then make a lot of decisions,” she says. “My husband and I are going to sit down and make a lot of decisions. We have a 9-year-old daughter who, first and foremost, needs a college fund that is fully loaded and taken care of. We’ve got nieces and nephews. I mean $1 million in Iowa could be really life-changing. We just want to take our time.”
How did the final vote break down?
According to the finalists, Denise received six of the eight jury votes, while Skupin and Lisa each received one.
Whom did Malcolm vote for?
Lisa and Skupin ended up essentially choosing Denise to be in the final three with them instead of Malcolm, whom they believed would be harder to beat. At the final tribal, Malcolm seemed angry at Denise, with whom he’d had an alliance all season. So whom did the bartender from Hermosa Beach, Calif., end up voting for? “Jungle Mama,” he says, referring to Denise, saying the two still have a “tight relationship.” Still, he wasn’t happy after being voted out. “I was storming around that night. I’m just a competitive guy. I’m not bitter at the people at all. I’m just bitter that I lost the game.” For her part, Denise describes her relationship with Malcolm as the “best of friends.”
Does Malcolm, Skupin or Lisa regret not taking Abi-Maria Gomes — this season’s “villain,” who seemingly would have been easier to beat — further in the game?
Malcolm says he was so confident in his alliance with Lisa and Skupin that he wasn’t worried about not making the final three. “I thought I had Lisa and Skupin. I absolutely totally believed that until the middle of the last tribal when Lisa basically said she was going to vote me out that night.” Skupin says he wanted to get rid of both Malcolm and Denise before the final four, but the circumstances were never quite right. “Malcolm won immunity in the final six and the final five, so at the point where we were going to get rid of Denise and Malcolm, we couldn’t get rid of them. When we got to the final five, we could have gotten rid of Denise, but Malcolm said he was going to give Denise his extra idol. He just kind of flippantly one day said [that]. Lisa and I said we could vote for Denise, but Abi was still going to go home and we’ll have shattered our alliance, so it didn’t strategically make any sense at that point.”
Has Denise spoken to Abi, with whom she had a tense relationship, since the game ended?
“We’re totally good,” the winner says. “Social networking is an amazing thing. I think we both realized it was a game that amplifies both the good and the bad.”
Does Malcolm regret not going along with Denise’s proposed plan to force a tie between her and Lisa at tribal council when it came down to the final four?
He was so confident in his final-three alliance that he wasn’t worried. “I got Lisa and Skupin to promise on their children’s lives it was us until the final three. … I didn’t realize how dead-set Lisa was against me. If I did anything wrong, my read on Lisa was just off at the end of the game.”
Is there anything Skupin learned from his second time in the game?
For starters, he says he thought that, of the final seven players, Denise had the least chance of winning. “I looked at her game, and I watched how she coasted throughout, and it turns out she just made less enemies. The part of the game I underestimated was Ponderosa [where the jury members stay while the game is still in progress]. It’s part of the game you can’t control. … You could have seven people that love you to death, and one person that still wants to play gets over there and spoils the whole thing. I’m not saying that’s what happened, because the game doesn’t lie. … But an hour later, the vote could change. With that vote, at that particular time, Denise had the least amount of enemies. … I respect the heck out of her. I have no regrets. I think I played the heck out of it.”
Did Malcolm give his hidden immunity idol — which he never used — to his mom as promised?
“My mom is walking around with it. She made me dig it out at that point in that episode, and I went and got it for her, and she’s been showing it to everybody. I mean, I’d rather go buy her something with the million dollars, but she’s got the idol.”
Did Probst know that player Sarah Dawson was going to jump out of her seat and give him a kiss during the live finale?
As viewers might have guessed from his reaction, he was not aware what she was planning.
Was Lisa surprised she won the fan favorite award?
Yes. “I would have voted for Malcolm,” she says. “It was the ‘player of the season,’ and he played better than anyone. So I’m grateful but still shocked.”
What was Lisa’s reaction when Penner outed her at final tribal council as a former teen star?
She says she figured all of the jury members were probably informed of that fact by the time final tribal council rolled around. “By that point, I knew that people had already heard his spiel at Ponderosa,” she says. “It wasn’t going to change. And now, I’m glad he said it because it tied up that unresolved, ‘Do people recognize her? Don’t they know who she is?’ As far as the story goes, it is a better ending for him having outed me.”
Will Lisa be returning to TV anytime soon?
Yes. In fact, she’s serving as a guest co-host for several episodes of the daytime talker The Jeff Probst Show, which are taping next week to air in January. “When I applied for Survivor, they asked, ‘Why do you want to do it?’ I love Survivor, and I love Jeff Probst. I got to be on Survivor, and now I get to guest host with him.” Does she have aspirations for her own talk show? “I have thought about doing a talk show. My heart is in comedy, so I’d rather do a sitcom. At the same time, I have thought about doing a talk show, and I can’t imagine it being more fun than doing it with somebody like Jeff.”
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