“Survivor” winner makes a difference in WNY man’s life

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) – Most reality stars expect to at least get their 15 minutes of fame. But one recent winner of “Survivor” walked away with a lasting friendship with a special “Survivor” super-fan from Cheektowaga.

When Denise Stapley won a million dollars on “Survivor: Philippines” in 2012, the fan messages started rolling in.

“When I decided to do this, I thought this was just going to be an experience for myself and my family, that’s what we envisioned,” Denise said.

But then she received a message from a Facebook fan in Cheektowaga that was decidedly different.

“Every Facebook post he writes has exclamation points all over the place. This is such a happy… I’m sorry I’m getting teary.”

Brandon Federowicz is a “Survivor” fanatic with autism.

“He’s just so happy; it’s a positive interaction. It’s making somebody happy simply by being available. That’s it. I’m just here. I’m not doing anything special, other than responding,” Denise said.

But she did more than just respond, she agreed to meet the 20-year-old from Cheektowaga. His mother, Charlene Federowicz, says, when Brandon found out, he started counting down the days.

Denise flew from Iowa and Brandon from his home in Cheektowaga to meet in California. The two of them competed together in the annual Reality Rally, a fundraiser for cancer, in honor of Brandon’s father John Federowicz, who died of cancer just last fall.

“It’s an honor to run in memory of your dad,” Denise said.

Brandon replied, “Same thing. It’s so awesome to meet you.”

Brandon competed like a true “Survivor” himself. Charlene says watching her son reach the top of the wall in an obstacle course was the best part of the day.

“Being with Denise is awesome; I love her,” Brandon said.

Denise added, “They’re just a pretty cool family, so it’s great to be a part of it. I believe we’re life long friends.”

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