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Iowa sex therapist wins Survivor: Philippines

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She was a member of all three tribes, went to every single tribal council and never found a hidden immunity idol during her 39 days on Survivor: Philippines, yet Denise Stapley of Iowa was still able to outwit, outlast and outplay all the other contestants to become this season's sole Survivor. She sat beside Lisa Welchel and Michael Skupin in the final and when the votes were tallied, the jury felt Stapley played a better game than both Welchel and Skupin. I recently spoke to the final three contestants to get their view on how this season's game played out.

The Maine Edge: Denise, did you have any doubts once you made it to the final three that you'd win?

Stapley: Leaving that final tribal council I thought, "I just did it," but we had five months to replay it in our minds. And as much as I wanted to hope, I never let myself truly believe I had done it until last night. 

TME: What will you do with your winnings?

Stapley: So many things are going through my mind. We've got a nine year old daughter and want to make sure her future is taken care of. We, as a family, just want to be a good steward of this incredible gift that Survivor hands you. A nice vacation where it's warm would be wonderful.

TME: What was more difficult, playing the game of Survivor or living on the island with Abi for 30-plus days?

Stapley: Honestly? Living on the island with Abi. I have a really high tolerance for lots of things, living through the rain and the elements but with Abi, it just didn't end. I just needed to try to keep my patience [out there].

TME: Lisa, did you think the jury votes would of been closer between you, Skupin and Denise?

Lisa Welchel: No. I thought it would've been a landslide for Denise. I was surprised I even got the one vote. 

TME: How did you feel about Penner outing you [sharing you were a teen TV star] at the last tribal council?

Welchel: I think everything is fair in the game of the Survivor. I think he was playing the game to the end and I have no grudge about that. I'm crazy about Penner. I had dinner last week with he and his wife. He's a great story teller and I told him, "As much as I didn't see it coming, you needed to say what you said at the last tribal council." I don't think it effected the vote.

TME: Any regrets that Malcolm, who was so close to making the final three and so close to winning the fan favorite prize, actually walked away empty handed?

Welchel: Of course. Malcolm is not only one of the best players to play the game, he is one of the best people on the planet. Not every time does the best man win. And as thrilled as I am Denise won, I would've voted for Malcolm to win Survivor and to win fan favorite.

TME: Were you surprised to become this season's fan favorite?

Welchel: I'm absolutely overwhelmed with gratitude.

TME: What will you do with the prize money?

Welchel: My brother Justice who visited me during the loved one visit [during the game] is a pastor of a church in California. They are always involved in supporting the community so first thing I want to do is give 10% to his church, then move to California and live on it [the prize money] until I can get another acting job.

TME: Michael [Skupin], in a season where contestants wanted the returning players like yourself gone, are you pleased you made it to the final three?

Michael Skupin: I was thrilled since I was told on day two, "We hate returning players." My name came up over and over when there was a tribal council and to be able to survive out there every single day was a thrill. There isn't anything that I left on the table. I took the two people [Denise and Lisa] to the end that I thought I could actually beat.

TME: If you would've been on the jury and the final three would've been Malcolm, Denise, and Lisa, who would you have voted for?

Skupin: That's a hard question to answer and put your mind back to six months ago when you were there. In the embodiment of outwit, outplay, outlast - Malcolm outplayed. Lisa played the most open game and Denise played an "under the radar" game which is not me. So I'd say I would've had to award it to Malcolm. 

TME: Other than being medically evacuated, how was this experience on Survivor: Philippines different from your time on Survivor: The Australian Outback?

Skupin: Oh that's easy - the family visit. That experience I'll never forget for the rest of my life. My son and I talk about it all the time. Everything Mark Burnett [the show's creator] designed this game to be, I got to experience from the final feast to the fallen comrade walk. I controlled everything in this game that I had control over. You can't control how people vote.


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