Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Survivor Ratings: Denise

 A Survivor's player real-life job is usually not a great hint as to how the person will perform in the game, but every once in a while, a Survivor will have a job that makes them an automatic favourite.  Probably the best example is Brian Heidik being a used-car salesman --- now, CBS left out his softcore porn past to just focus on the car dealing, but even still, when you have a game based on manipulation, outwitting and literally selling a product (yourself) to a jury at the end, a car salesman definitely stands out as a major threat.  Sure enough, Heidik took the title in such a blowout fashion that he's still considered as one of the very best Survivors ever.

In Denise Stapley's case, here's another glaring hint: sex therapist.  Maybe not so much specifically the sex part, but a trained therapist is just about perfectly suited for 39 days of dealing with egos, personal relationships and hurt feelings.  I had her pegged as one of the top contenders from the very beginning, with the caveat that she could definitely go all the way if she could survive the first few weeks and avoid the "vote out the older woman first to keep the tribe strong" trend that so ofter prematurely knocks out older women in the game.  As it happened, while Denise was definitely a target early on, the fact that she more than held her own in challenges and in camp work kept the target far off her back.

"Occupation" is not one of my categories for rating Survivor winners, however, so let's rank Denise's performance using the standard determining trio....

How She Won: This was the "Tina Strategy" played to a tee, even to the point of it being a 40ish woman paired with an athletic, likeable 20-something guy.  As Tina did with Colby (and Earl did with Yau Man, to use another example), the winner formed an alliance with one very clearly strong and well-liked player so that most obvious threat "led" the alliance while the other lurked in the background.  Though I call it the Tina Strategy, Denise/Malcolm really played out like Earl/Yau, even to the point where the big threat was voted out at F4, clearing the path for the winner to coast to victory.  Malcolm undoubtedly played a big role in getting Denise to where she was in the game, but the reverse was also true --- had Malcolm stuck with the pretty but useless Angie, I highly doubt he would've made it as far as the final four, as he was just too obvious a threat.  The fact that Malcolm and Denise were both seen as clear winners (a fact being mentioned amongst the others themselves as far back as the final eight or final nine) kept the heat off both of their backs, plus Mal's hidden idol also obviously played a factor. 

It's very unfair, however, to just type Denise as Malcolm's partner in crime.  As I mentioned earlier, Denise's work ethic and ability in challenges made her a very valuable asset to her teammates.  She also quickly won over Penner/Jeff/Carter when she got switched to the Kalabaw tribe, as Denise could've been seen as an obvious 6-1 elimination as a new player in an established tribe, but instead became the swing vote between the two factions in camp.  And, as Denise stressed herself in her very strong jury speech, she survived going to every single tribal council in the game and was on the block all but the one time she'd won immunity.  It was a straight 39 days of dodging bullets and Denise escaped without a scratch.

Skillset: I've already mentioned Denise's physical ability (you can definitely rank her as one of the very best 40+ women in Survivor history at challenges) and willingness to work around camp, and it also bears mentioning that Denise just came off as a thoroughly likeable, dependable person.  As so many players fail to realize, Not Being A Jerk can go a long way in the game.

There was also a bit of a Sandra-esque quality to Denise's gameplay, specifically as it relates to Abi-Maria.  In short, everyone hated Abi but she seemed to focus on Denise as her particular tormentor because Denise laid out her dislike for Abi in a very logical and detached way at tribal council.  (I'll note that for all we know, everyone might've heavily beefed about Abi but Denise's criticisms were the only ones that were included in the final cut of the episodes.)  It set up the Abi vs. Denise schism, and while some players might've found Denise's "appeasement" as a therapist's trick to curry favour, the fact that she was so blunt about Abi also established Denise as not willing to sugarcoat things if asked a direct question.  She also repeated her criticisms of Abi during the jury questioning, and even won Abi's vote to boot.  It was low-level reminiscent of how Sandra was typed as a very brash and outspoken player, yet she because she just publicly focused her dislike on the universally-hated Russell and Jonny Fairplay, Sandra earned more respect as the "voice of the tribe."

At least the way that it was shown to the TV viewers, Denise shutting down Abi in such a clinical way at tribal council may have earned her similar respect amongst her peers.  This is a case where Denise's therapy background really helped her out, not to mention the umpteen times we saw her acting like a calm voice of reason when hustling votes.  Best example might've been in the final episode when she's buttering Skupin up like crazy to get him off of his crazy "me and Malcolm as the two final warriors" idea (though frankly, I think Skupin was more influenced by Lisa's steadfast insistence on voting Malcolm out).

Could She Do It Again?:
As I've noted with other female players, Denise could go far in a second Survivor outing simply by dint of the fact that women are generally seen as lesser threats in any returning player scenario.  In fact, I'll repeat my prediction: if Denise returned and lasted through the first few votes, she'd again be a threat to make it to the final tribal council.  She might have to latch onto another strong player to avoid being seen as the big threat she is, but it's a workable strategy.  Man, now I'm having a vision of Denise teaming up with Tina and Earl in some future Survivor Champions League season and simultaneously allying and trying to subtly lay the seeds to oust the other in a real battle for both victory and naming rights to the Tina Strategy.

My overall rankings are in need of updating since I don't have Kim and Sophie in the original post (I'll wait until May to include them, plus Denise and the S26 winner) but to quickly summarize the rankings, it's a top four of Sandra, Parvati, Brian and Kim, then another tier that includes Tina, Earl, Chris, Sophie and Richard.  I'll wait for the re-edit to specifically name Denise's place, but I'd put her right there in that second tier, narrowly ahead of Tom and Yul since Denise had to struggle a bit more to get her win without the help of a super-idol or totally incompetent opponents.  Hell, Denise was even on the totally incompetent tribe yet and Malcolm lasted all the way to the final four.  I'm not sure Denise's win was quite so dramatic given that her main opponents weren't exactly a murderers' row (Pete and Abi were idiots, Skupin was mostly an idiot and was always wishy-washy and Lisa only seemed to clue in after her brother showed up), but she was still a very strong Survivor winner.

1 comment:

Alex Keisler said...

You make a lot of good points about Denise, you seem to have a lot of good insight about her game that I can’t argue with. The one thing I disagree with though, is that you say you would rank her ahead of Tom. First off, on principle, isn’t someone who dominates the game start to finish a better winner than someone who floats under the radar? I don’t think the fact that Tom had “totally incompetent opponents” is a reason to dock points from him. The reason his tribe won all the pre-merge challenges is that he was leading them to victory. That job was hard because he was on the underdog tribe. I mean, would you really have predicted that a tribe with Janu, Katie, and Coby would beat a tribe with Stephanie, Bobby John, and Ibrehem? Some people say Tom didn’t have to play for the first half of the game, but that’s just not true. He was playing the game by leading his tribe to victory after victory, and by protecting himself and his allies from elimination. And he controlled all the vote-offs post merge. At the end of the day, what did Denise really do? She didn’t control the votes, make big strategic moves, and she wasn’t the person who got Skupin and Lisa to flip. I think that since Tom was more responsible for shaping how Palau turned out than Denise was for shaping Philippines, he should be above her.