Warning! The following contains spoilers for the Survivor: Winners At War episode "Quick On The Draw." Read at your own risk!
It felt like Survivor: Winners At War peaked with Boston Rob's elimination, but it turns out that was a mere warm-up for the incredible move Denise Stapley played the following week. Following the merger, Denise found herself in the minority of remaining Sele in her new tribe, and was at risk for elimination. She ended up getting an offer from Dakal's Sandra Diaz-Twine, though Sandra would ultimately come to regret ever messing with her.
Denise ended up buying an "immunity idol" from Sandra for one Fire Token, promising Sandra that the other token the two-time Survivor winner requested would be delivered after tribal council. When elimination time came, Sandra was shocked to see that Denise had not one, but two immunity idols she played to protect herself and fellow former Sele member Jeremy Collins from the elimination. The votes were counted, and though Sandra only had one vote cast towards her, all other votes were nullified. "The Survivor queen" was eliminated.
Denise Stapley's sneaky move was a shock to fans, and Survivor: Winners At War's Jeff Probst revealed his reaction was the same. The host talked out the moment in an interview with EW, and shared his take on the whole situation.
It was… as it should be… that the only two-time winner, and one of the only two players to have a statue erected in their honor, should be taken out by one of the most vicious moves in the history of the game. THAT is how you kill the Queen. We may never know the truth about Sandra’s motives. As someone who has watched her play for nearly 20 years, I question the part of her motive that centered around 'liking' Denise. I put more weight into the idea that she 'calculated the odds' (a lesson from Island of the Idols) and figured she was safe and could gain two very powerful Fire Tokens in exchange for an idol that was about to become completely powerless
The edit of Survivor: Winners Of War made it seem like Sandra Diaz-Twine and Denise Stapley were forging an alliance. In reality, it seems Denise's real goal was to even the odds for she and Jeremy within their new tribe, and use Sandra's immunity idol to eliminate Sandra and make the split between former Dakal and Sele 2-2. It was a bold move considering a rogue vote could've sent someone else home, but luckily for Denise, Sandra couldn't stick around to concoct a plan of revenge.
As improbable as it may seem, it feels like Sandra Diaz-Twine may have underestimated Denise Stapley. Many in the Survivor: Winners At War fandom certainly did, including Jeff Probst.
As for underestimating Denise, add me to that camp as well, I would have never seen that coming. Denise didn’t just take out Sandra, she knocked her out. It was one of the biggest moves that has ever been made in the game. And I love that Sandra took it like a true player. She got got — and she didn’t make any excuses. It has happened to most every great player and the few that haven’t felt it yet in their Survivor career will most likely feel it at some point this season.
I can imagine that, going forward, few on Survivor: Winners At War will underestimate Denise Stapley. She’s knocked Sandra out of the game (for good potentially) but may soon have a target on her back going forward. How will her tribe’s remaining Dakal members react after being left out of such a big move?
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