Stapley has returned to the show for the first time since she won Survivor: Philippines, which was the 25th season of the show, airing in the fall of 2012.
Here’s what you need to know about Stapley.
1. Denise Is a Sex Therapist
Denise Stapley is from Iowa where she is one of only two American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) certified sex therapist in the state. She is also a licensed mental health therapist.
Her training and education include a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology from Iowa State University, a Master’s in Counseling from the University of Northern Iowa, then a national counseling certificate followed by a mental health counseling certificate and finally her sex therapist certification, which she achieved in 2006.
Her website says that she “believes firmly in consistent and continued education in her field in order to provide the best possible client care. Stapley has participated in on-going training in the areas of anxiety and depression management, personality disorders, counseling ethics, psychopharmacology, couples therapy, and sexuality. It is when we stop learning that we stop growing.”
2. She’s Married and Has One Daughter
Stapley is married to a man named Brad, who works as an operations product transition manager at Rockwell Collins, an avionics and information technology systems corporation in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The two have one child, Sydney, who is 16 years old and is making her mark already in their little corner of the world.
When she was 13 years old, Sydney found out that the sister of one of her close friends was born with a rare heart disease and would need surgery. She wanted to help and knew she loved to bake, so she started going door to door in her neighborhood to ask for donations in exchange for a cupcake. The idea grew into “Blossom’s Cupcakes for a Cause,” which is so named because of a nickname Sydney got from her dad when she was little, though it now also “reflects her overall goal to grow awareness and support in her community and the world around,” according to her Facebook page.
In a 2017 interview with local ABC affiliate KCRG, Sydney said her mom is like her manager and helps her organize everything. Each month, Sydney picks a charity to donate to and anyone can place an order through the Facebook page. In her first year, Sydney made over 2700 cupcakes and raised over $6000 in donations.
3. Denise Is In Amazing Shape
An avid bicyclist, runner, and outdoorswoman, Stapley, who is 49 now but was 48 when the season filmed, is always on the go with her husband and friends. She has completed a marathon, and then just a few years ago, she participated in a GoRuck event, which is a grueling competition done with a heavy rucksack on your back.
An example of one happening later this year in Stapley’s hometown is described as a 10-12 hour event that covers 15-20 miles where someone who weighs under 150 pounds must carry 20 pounds in their sack and someone over 150 pounds must carry 30. So it is definitely not an event for the faint of heart. And Denise definitely has slowed down her training at all in the last few years.
“After I came back the last time, I joined a CrossFit gym because I lost so much muscle mass,” she says in a pre-show video interview. “So I did that for a few years. Now I just go to the gym, I swim. I want my body to work well. I’m 48 and I’d like to feel this way or better at 58 or 68 … We’re not out here for a vacation, we’re out here to play.”
As her friend and fellow castaway Malcolm Freberg writes on Twitter, “In the time it took you to write this foolish question doubting her, Denise Stapely ran 3 miles, did a hundred of those burpee things, reshaved her hair, and was paid to describe where the clitoris is. Of course she’s a threat.”
4. She holds Two Impressive Survivor Records
Currently, Stapley is both the oldest female Survivor winner and the only person to have gone to every single Tribal Council in an entire season. On “Philippines,” she played an impressive game that was a deadly combination of physical wins, mental toughness, and general likability.
In 2015, host Jeff Probst was asked to name his Top 10 winners of all time and Stapley made the list, with Probst praising her ability to never give up in the face of adversity, because her original tribe, Matsing, got down to just two castaways before they were absorbed into the two other tribes.
“Denise went to every single Tribal Council. That’s unheard of, to survive every vote, and still win the game,” said Probst. “What I like about Denise is, she did something that’s very difficult to do: Be what is considered an older woman in this game, and not get voted out, by staying out of the way. It’s so tricky.”
He continued, “The reason Denise made it so deep is that she just stayed out of the way and trusted in the fact, ‘If I can get to the end, I know what I’m capable of. My secret weapon is that they don’t know. If I can just hang in there long enough…’ It’s a really interesting and risky way to play, but I was so proud of her for winning. She was down on her luck from the get-go, and yet, she hung in there. That’s something we often talk about on Survivor. It’s why you never quit. As long as you’re in the game, tomorrow is a new day.”
5. Denise’s Strategy May Have Changed Since Her First Game
In a pre-“Winners at War” interview with Xfinity, Stapley says her strategy the first time around was all about loyalty. This time, she’d love to be more strategic — but keep that on the down-low.
“When I played in the Philippines, I wasn’t a big, bold player. Nobody thinks I’m a big strategic player,” says Stapley. “I definitely want to lean into that. I’d love to be able to play more strategically, but I don’t want people to know that. I want them to think I’m loyal, I’m great in challenges, I help around camp. There are a lot bigger threats out here.”
She also thinks there are some women out there she could definitely work with.
“Parvati, Sandra, Natalie, and Sarah. Parvati, I’m a little bit of a fangirl. Being a fan from season one, there’s something about watching her play and watching her game change that I really would like to play with her. … She’s got the stuff that I don’t have. Sandra, I think you can read Sandra. She is who she is. Her game has been pretty consistent. I think she is forthcoming. I think she’s going to be looking for people to align with because she’s going to be afraid because she’s won twice. Natalie is funny, she’s a beast. I think she plays a good strategic game. And Sarah, this is one I’m not sure … the only thing that makes me hesitant to work with her is because she’s the hardest person out here to read.”
Survivor: Winners at War airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
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