With all the backstabbing, betrayals, and blindsides that take place on "Survivor," is it any wonder that a therapist won this season?
After 39 days and going to every single tribal council (a record), 41-year-old sex therapist Denise Stapley earned the jury's votes to win the $1 million prize and title of sole survivor of "Survivor: Philippines." She defeated finalists Lisa Whelchel and Michael Skupin.
Stapley relied on her background to rule the social game as she navigated the complex relationships in three different tribes.
From the beginning, Stapley teamed up with 25-year-old bartender Malcolm Freberg. They never swayed, even as their initial tribe Matsing was decimated and they were split up between the other two tribes.
Stapley spoke with Yahoo! TV about that nearly unshakable alliance, being called a b---- during the final tribal council, and what she thinks of Season 25 villain Abi-Maria Gomes now.
Have you really processed the fact that you won?
I did for a minute last night, and now I'm just sitting here, like, "This is really real." It's still very surreal.
As you were going to every single tribal council this season, did you think you would end up winning it all?
A lot of people say you're playing to get to the end, but for me, it was playing to get to the next stage. So each stage, each tribal that I survived through, it was, "OK, you're still in this to win it."
I would love to be able to say I was confident the whole way through, but, no, it was regroup, regroup, regroup, and just keep going and hope for the best.
In the final tribal, you said that you did a lot of listening. Was that your strategy from the outset?
I have my whole strategy that's typed out -- it's like two pages long of how I wanted to play the game. It really was a reflection of life outside the game for me, and that's all about relationships and trying to look for people I wanted to surround myself with, whom I wanted to play with, and trying to combine some of the strategy with it.
Just part of who I am and part of what I do. Not just part of it -- it's all of what I do. I listen and I build relationships, and in this game, that built trust helped show people that I had a value to keep around, along with a work ethic around camp, in all my different tribes. So, yeah, that was a huge part of the strategy that I had going in.
Did Malcolm fit the profile of who you wanted to ally with?
One hundred percent. And instantly, I mean I'm not kidding, instantly after we were on the beach and building our shelter. He was working his tail off, and for me, that's just something I have huge respect for. It was this whole package of this kid, this young kid, who's working his tail off and has a great attitude and a good sense of humor.
He fit that profile of my initial alliance, and I wanted nothing more than to be sitting in the finals with him.
But you didn't end up doing that. Before that last vote, to go from four to three, you asked him to create a tie situation, and he waffled. Was that the turning point in your partnership?
I had been trying to get him, first of all, to commit to take me. I knew the way that he was thinking strategically. And then when I threw out, "Here's my proposal, at least let it go to a tie between Lisa and me," and he would not confirm that, it was just this gigantic red flag for me -- "Oh, he is so going to slice my throat."
But that was the move I had to make. People say there are big moves, and that was the one I had to make. Luckily, I was able to listen and cue into that and try to seek that out, and when I didn't get it, that was it.
[Related: Find out what's next for Lisa Whelchel]
Up until then, you hadn't swayed from your alliance with him, even though he was such a huge threat, physically and socially.
We hadn't swayed. I think so many people were hoping that it would go all the way to the end, but unfortunately he was a threat. And Lisa and Michael, they were not going to split. There's no way that Michael would've ever voted for Lisa, so our alliance had to break up.
Do you wish you had gone with him to the final?
I do wish I had been sitting there with him. That's hard for him to hear, because if he'd just said "you bet" [to the tie proposal], he would've had a chance at that title. So, there is a sadness. I really did want to be there with him, but it was the game.
And I love that I was in the finals with Lisa and Skupin because, again, any one of us -- granted, I'm really glad I won the million bucks -- but I would've been so happy to have any of them win. If it weren't me, I would've had no regrets about any of them winning.
Did you have a good feeling during that final tribal?
I definitely walked out with a feeling of 'I think this could happen," especially after Jonathan's speech about the chariot. I'm hoping he's talking about me in the chariot, but I don't really know. So, you hope, but at the same time, there are so many things in terms of votes that I didn't expect and was really worried about.
What was your reaction when he called you a b----?
You can see the look on my face, like, "Did he really say that?!" I was shocked in that moment, and thought, OK, I'm screwed.
What's your relationship like now with Malcolm?
It's great. I have a great relationship with Jonathan and Malcolm. Actually, I have a healthy, good relationship with everyone in the jury ... We're all communicating and in good spirits with each other. Malcolm came into that final tribal pissed, and he was trying to light a fire under my butt and did a really nice job of it. I can't blame him for being angry in that moment, because he was. He was pissed. He wanted to be sitting there where I was, and I would've felt the exact same way if I had been sitting on the other side of that room there.
What about Abi? You two butted heads a lot.
It's a shocker, isn't it -- we are on good terms! Abi and I in the game -- oh my gosh, there was not an ounce of love lost for either of us; it doesn't even translate how bad it was out there. But postgame, social media is a great tool. Facebook, behind the scenes, all that -- Abi and I have been able to connect and really make peace with what happened out there.
The reality is we are who we are in the game; you get blown up, your qualities get blown up. Whether or not those are good ... luckily for me, for the most part, it was good. For Abi, unfortunately, it drew out these things in her that are part of who she is, but that were just blown up horribly. We're on good terms. We'd sit down and have coffee -- for a short time.
What's the first thing you plan to do with your $1 million?
The first thing I'm going to do with the million is just look at it, take a little deep breath, and just kind of let this all sink in. Next, we've got a 9-year-old daughter, so take time and make sure her future is taken care of and take care of a couple of things just to make life a little bit more comfortable. We really just want to take some time and figure out how to be good stewards of an incredible gift that "Survivor" just gave us.
Watch an interview with Denise from the 'Survivor' season finale:
- Sports & Recreation
- Arts & Entertainment
- Lisa Whelchel