After an intense final tribal council, where the unrepentant final three pled their cases, sex therapist Denise Stapley beat returnee Mike Skupin and former Facts of Life star Lisa Whelchel by a vote of 6-1-1. The win capped off an invigorating competition that Jeff Probst called "a wild, unpredictable season."
Stapley won $1 million and the title of Sole Survivor.
Going into the finale, it was anyone's game. The four remaining contestants each had a strong case for winning the million. Bartender Malcolm Freberg had played a physical game and made few enemies. Stapley had attended every tribal council – a first for the show – but was never in real danger of being voted off. And in perhaps one of the strongest twosomes in Survivor history, Whelchel teamed up with Skupin to form a secret alliance.
In the evening's first tribal council, a visibly angry Freberg, who Jeff Probst called the game's biggest threat, was voted off with a 3-1 vote.
During the final tribal council, juror Jonathan Penner spilled Whelchel's secret – that she's a former TV star. Each of the finalists faced vitriol. As the final votes were read live from Los Angeles, Stapley ran out in the audience to hug her family while Skupin and Whelchel embraced each other.
The next season of Survivor premieres in February.