Cedar Rapids woman wins $1 million top prize on 'Survivor'

Family rejoices at gathering in Eastern Iowa

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WAUKON – “She’s always been a survivor,” mom Lois McCormick Shindoll of Marion said as her daughter survived to the end, the million dollar-winner on “Survivor: Philippines.”

Denise Stapley, 41, a mental health counselor and sex therapist from Cedar Rapids, survived every Tribal Council she went to – including Sunday’s live reading of the jury vote -- on the popular CBS television test of physical, psychological and social endurance.

“I’m excited; I’m sick to my stomach,” McCormick Shindoll said as her daughter won a trip to the final Tribal Council in Sunday night’s 25th season finale. Afterward, she added: “It’s too bad we don’t exchange Christmas gifts.”

McCormick Shindoll and nearly 40 other family members in Team Jungle Mama gathered at the Vet’s Club in Waukon to cheer on their favorite Jungle Mama castaway. They literally went wild as Stapley was crowned the winner.

On Day 38, Stapley outlasted lead contender Malcolm Freberg, 25, a bartender from Hermosa Beach, Calif., in a surprising shift of alliances when the Final Four pared it down to the Final Three in the Day 38 vote.

During the finale, a chorus of “Drop it! Drop it! Yea!” rang out as Freberg dropped the ball in the game’s final Immunity Challenge leading up to the Final Four vote early in the finale.

The cheers quickly changed to groans as Stapley dropped her ball next.

Michael Skupin won that challenge, assuring him a place in the Finale Three. Skupin, 50, a professional speaker, author and coach from White Lake, Mich., is a returning player. He was airlifted out of the show’s second season, “Survivor: The Australian Outback,” after falling into a fire and suffering severe burns.

The other member of the final Three was Lisa Whelchel, 49, a former TV teen actress from Dallas, Texas.

McCormick Shindoll, who spent most of the final episode with her head on husband Arden Shindoll’s shoulder, wasn’t surprised her daughter did so well all season.

“The way she sits back and thinks and listens to what people say – that’s her job as a therapist.” 

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