Playing with Champions

Abi-Maria Gomes Talks Denise Stapley

Abi-Maria Gomes chats to us about her former tribemate Denise Stapley.

Photo: CBS

Back in June last year, while the Survivor: Winners At War cast were battling it out on the islands of Fiji, I reached out to a selection of former Survivor players to get their thoughts and predictions on the returning castaways. Over the next few weeks, I will be posting those interviews here on Inside Survivor.

Today, we’re talking to Abi-Maria Gomes, who played with Denise Stapley back in Survivor: Philippines. It’s safe to say that Abi-Maria and Denise weren’t exactly the best of friends during the Philippines; in fact, you might even call them enemies. While they voted together at the first merge vote, the pair soon found themselves on opposite sides, with Abi-Maria becoming a prickly thorn in Denise’s side. The tension between the two would even result in back-and-forth verbal spats at Tribal Council. However, when all was said and done, Abi-Maria still rewarded Denise with her vote to win at the Final Tribal Council.

Inside Survivor reached out to Abi-Maria to get her thoughts on Denise’s return to Survivor: Winners At War.

Disclaimer: This interview was conducted in June 2019 while Survivor: Winners At War was still filming in Fiji.

1) Hey Abi, thanks for doing this! You and Denise first met at the merge in the Philippines and worked with each other for a couple of votes before separating. What was your initial opinion of Denise, and how did it change throughout the season?

My first impression of Denise was that she was a force to be reckoned with. I actually was watching her before the game even started, at Ponderosa. Denise would walk around the pool in circles, and my intuition had me super cautious about her. She came off focused and very secure about her gameplay. When I learned she was a therapist, when we were at the merge and could actually talk to each other, every fiber of my being told me that if she would make it to the end, she would definitely work herself into winning Survivor: Philippines—which she did!

2) From what we saw on TV, you and Denise clashed quite a bit, especially at Tribal Council. Why do you think this was? 

I think Denise and I clashed with each other because we both had a strong goal in mind—winning. Maybe she saw me as a threat? And I know she had to use all her power to get the numbers on her side. You gotta remember, she came from a tribe that was destroyed and had a strong relationship with Malcolm—they went through a lot together. She knew she had to have Tandang despising me in order to get them on her side and keep the numbers with her. She was strong. All words said at Tribal were a part of the game. Emotions run high!

3) Despite your tense relationship, in the end, you voted for Denise to win. What were the reasons you voted for her? What made her a better player than Skupin and Lisa? 

To me, the deciding factor was her perseverance in the game. Denise’s trajectory and her storyline were strong. Her social game and strength were all taken into consideration. My relationship with Skupin and Lisa had a lot of baggage. They didn’t stick with the alliance, and they lost complete credibility at that point. Denise and I were battling hard because we both wanted to get to the end.  

4) Who on this season’s cast do you see Denise gravitating towards? Who do you think would make a good ally for her?

I can see Denise gravitating towards Jeremy, Kim, Michele possibly, Adam… Nick. I think Denise and Jeremy would make great allies!

5) Who on this season’s cast poses the biggest threat to Denise? Is there anyone you see her butting heads with?

I think Denise would butt heads with Tony. Parvati perhaps would be her biggest threat

6) You’ve also played with another winner on this cast, in Jeremy. How do Denise and Jeremy compare as winners — not in terms of who is better, but more in terms of how they play the game and their strengths and weaknesses? 

Jeremy and Denise both were conscious of using other players as shields. They both were tight with their alliance, and their social game was on point. 

7) What is Denise’s secret weapon as a Survivor player — something which maybe we as viewers might not have seen on TV or something her fellow competitors might underestimate? 

Denise might be tiny, but she is a beast. Girl dominates in challenges. Denise is an open-minded woman and easy to talk to. She has a very good way of forming bonds with people. She is a force to be reckoned with!

8) On the flip-side, what is Denise’s biggest flaw as a Survivor player?

Her strong personality will rub others with strong personalities in the wrong way!

9) Before I let you go, what is new in the world of Abi-Maria? How has life been since we last saw you in Cambodia?

Since I played Survivor in Cambodia, life has been busy. I have taken a few solo travels, have been focused at work. I moved around a bit but overall enjoying the gym, the beach, and reading a few books.

Thanks again to Abi-Maria for taking part. Stay tuned to Inside Survivor for more Playing with Champions interviews.

Survivor: Winners At War premieres February 12, 2020, on CBS.


Written by

Martin Holmes

Martin is a freelance writer from England. He’s represented by Berlin Associates for comedy writing and writes about TV and entertainment, currently for TV Insider and Vulture, previously Digital Spy, ET Canada, and Yahoo. A finalist for the Shortlist Sitcom Search in 2012 for “Siblings,” Martin received his BA in English with Creative Writing from The University of Hull.


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