‘Survivor 40: Winners at War’: Did Denise Stapley Make a Brilliant Move, or Will It Come Back to Bite Her?

Denise Stapley, who has played a quiet and under-the-radar game so far, made her stamp by single-handledly sending a legend to the Edge of Extinction. While many fans praise the Philippines champ for her move, others argue it might come back to bite her later.

Denise Stapley
Denise Stapley | Timothy Kuratek

[SPOILER ALERT: This article contains information revealed in ‘Survivor 40: Winners at War’ Episode 6.]

Sandra Diaz-Twine voted off ‘Survivor 40: Winners at War’ Episode 6

Two-time champ Sandra Diaz-Twine swapped into the majority alongside original Dakal tribemates Kim Spradlin-Wolfe and Tony Vlachos with former Sele members Jeremy Collins and Denise Stapley.

Knowing that her immunity idol had no power after the upcoming Tribal Council and wanting Jeremy out of the game, Sandra struck a deal with Denise.

She informed the Philippines winner that all the votes would come her way, but would give her an immunity idol in exchange for two fire tokens and her vote toward Jeremy.

Even though Denise already had an idol she found at the Sele tribe, she agreed and said she would trade one fire token beforehand and one afterward.

Having all the power in her hands and two immunity idols, Denise chose to play Sandra’s idol for herself and her original idol for Jeremy. She then voted for the two-time champ, single-handedly sending The Queen to the Edge of Extinction.

While some are calling it one of the biggest moves of the season, others aren’t convinced Denise made the right decision. 

Why fans think Denise Stapley made one of the best moves

Many believe that Denise “burned” her second idol on Jeremy because he received no votes, and she could have told him to vote for Sandra with her beforehand.

However, one Reddit user argued that if she didn’t play the idol on Jeremy, and someone cast a vote for him, then he would go home on a revote, and she would have an angry Sandra waiting for her back at camp.

By using the idol on Jeremy, the Philippines champ “took zero chances on the vote not going her way,” saved a fire token, and potentially gained a longstanding ally in Jeremy.

Another agreed and noted, “Sandra gave Denise all the power,” and she used it to make a big move. Additionally, she sent an original Dakal to the Edge, evening the tribe in a two-to-two split. It also increases the original Sele members’ chances once they reach the merge.

If she “aimed for self-preservation,” then she would be the last former Sele tribemate with no fire tokens and an idol that could only get her through one more Tribal Council.

One user pointed out that it’s only a “bad play” if it comes back to bite her similarly to J.T. Thomas in Heroes vs. Villains when he gave Russell Hantz an idol.

Why fans think Denise Stapley made the wrong decision

Other viewers believe Denise could have played her cards differently and saved an idol by telling Jeremy about her plan. If she told him about Sandra’s deal and that she has an extra idol for them to use down the road, the Cambodia champ could have opened up about his safety without power, and they would have two advantages in their pockets while still getting rid of the Queen.

One Reddit user explained they think Denise “made a mistake” by sending the two-time champ to the Edge because they created a “bond” when they traded the fire tokens for an idol.

The alliance didn’t have to be long term, but Sandra, an original Dakal member in the majority, could benefit Denise at the merge. Therefore, they argue the Philippines winner should have voted out Tony or Kim, saved her original idol, and “kept a good relationship with Sandra” once the tribes merged.

Additionally, Denise has now solidified herself as a viable threat and placed a bigger target on her back by voting off Sandra. Even if Denise’s move comes back to bite her and Jeremy doesn’t want to work with her moving forward, her double idol play that resulted in the elimination of a legend will still go down in Survivor history.

Winners at War airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.