I got huge respect for doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists. To be any of the four is an accomplishment of a lifetime and especially when you’re Denise Stapley. Denise is a forty-one-year-old sex therapist from Iowa who joined SURVIVOR with a motto in mind “Keep it simple, keep it smart.” Believe it or not, I’m totally surprised this motto is just enough for her to outwit, outplay and outlast seventeen other people.
THE STAND-OUT: Clearly, Denise was a memorable sole survivor. She made HISTORY! She’s the first sex therapist to play the game. She’s a member of a tribe in losing-streak (Matsing). She’s been to three tribes in 39 days (Matsing, Kalabaw, DangRayne). She won the ever-first Immunity Challenge (along with Carter) and to top all of that, she survived every Tribal Council since the pilot.
By analyzing her game, I firmly say Denise went beyond the social, strategic and physical aspects of the game. Unlike Parvati who dominated the challenges in Heroes vs. Villains and unlike Sandra who won the title twice, Denise played differently. She was in the middle. Considering all these paranoia she went through in every Tribal Council + the extreme physical discomfort around the camp, Denise didn’t allow these things to overpower her.
Denise digs in. Denise digs deep – remained collected, confident and cool until she made it happen and completed the 39-day requirement – with 6 of 8 jury members voted for her (Penner, Jeff, Artis, Pete, Malcolm and Abi-Maria).
THE UNLUCKIEST: The finale episode started slow and kinda predictable. Big portion of the airtime were given to Malcolm, who won an advantage clue for the final challenge then ka-boom! The game exploded in unpredictability – Malcolm lost the final immunity challenge. Even with a reset advantage, it’s clear the challenge (which was a repeat in Micronesia, which Amanda won), wasn’t made for Malcolm. It’s also hard to point the exact reason why he was shaking so hard to hold up those segments using the two handles.
The lost wasn’t his huge lost though. His huge lost was that before-the-challenge moment when he couldn’t seal a commitment with Denise. Denise only wanted a 2-2 vote in Tribal Council instead of 1-3 against her. It’s hard to understand why Malcolm failed to give what she wants. It’s a simple and fair gameplay before a finals. Yet, doubts overpowered Malcolm. This moment revealed he extremely feared Denise. It seems he clearly knew that even he stayed loyal with Denise, he still couldn’t win.
THE GOOD: Backstabbing a threat is a common gameplay in the game and unfortunately for Denise, she’s left with no options but to separate herself with Malcolm. Denise was on a one woman show. Yes, she dug deep in convincing Michael and Lisa on why to eliminate Malcolm. Yes, it’s a great strategy. Yet, this social strategy alone didn’t work if not for luck. That moment when Michael and Lisa eliminate Malcolm, it’s enough to say every fiber of luck in the universe sided with Denise.
After the votes were revealed, one another good thing about this Final-3 finale was the fact that no one receives zero votes even with Denise’s cerebral right-in-your-face responses. Mike Skupin has one, thanks to Carter and RC surprisingly voted for Lisa.
EPISODE RATING: Overall, the season was beyond what I expected. It’s neither great nor fantastic. It’s extraordinary, 10 of 10 stars!
All types drama are here – Medevac returnees, a tribe in a losing streak, the obsession of getting rid with returnees, an unlikable Brazilian beauty who never shuts up but never gave up, predictable exits of Pete, Carter & Abi, unpredictable roller-coaster drama in Tribal Council, an alpha male who was expected to win it all but failed to win the one important necklace of his survival (similarly like Ozzy in South Pacific), a woman who regular thought the game is bigger than her, a nail-biting final challenge, a memorable live reunion show (thanks to Dawson!) lastly, the crowning of an extraordinary sole survivor.