Lunch Lady Denise: Survivor Liar?

Contestants on “Survivor” have been known to stretch the truth a tad in their quest, and there is no question quite a few unsavories have emerged, from the currently incarcerated Richard Hatch (tax evasion) to Jonny “My grandmother died” Fairplay.

But Lunch Lady Denise?

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Lunch Lady Liar?

Fans of the show watched Sunday’s high rated finale had nothing but sympathy for Denise when she had to endure hearing Courtney wonder on the show why Denise deserved anything just because she “sucked at life” and was poor.

Then on the live show, a teary Denise told everyone how horrible the school district behaved when she returned to work and was demoted from lunch lady to janitor. It was all because her presence was “too disruptive” to the students, who saw her as a TV star. So she was shuffled off to clean toilets and barf in obscurity.

A little bell went off in my brain, because I know janitors make more money than lunch ladies, so didn’t she get a promotion? Turns out Denise may have been a little less than honest about the whole deal. CBS’ “Early Show” host Julie Chen grilled Denise and school superintendent Nancy Lane, who says Denise fibbed.

Here’s the release from the school:

Press Release: Mrs. Denise Martin
December 17, 2007
Douglas Public Schools

On the “Survivor China” television program that aired on December 16, 2007, Mrs. Denise Martin, an employee of the Douglas Public Schools, stated that she was demoted from her position as a cafeteria worker upon her return from taping the show. This statement is false. In fact, Mrs. Martin held a full-time position as a custodian prior to her participation in the series, and she returned to this same position upon her return from China. Mrs. Martin was granted – at her request – an unpaid leave of absence so that she could participate in the “Survivor” program. We were pleased and excited to support Denise, and have enthusiastically cheered her on throughout the duration of the show.

Although Mrs. Martin was a cafeteria employee prior to her selection as a contestant, she asked to be considered for a promotion to full-time custodian, and was promoted to this position on March 30, 2007. This promotion came with additional benefits and a higher salary. Following her leave, she then returned to this same position.

Regretfully, the Douglas Public School District was inaccurately portrayed as failing to be accommodating to an employee during what the District viewed as a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. This is far from the case. On the contrary, we granted all requests made by Mrs. Martin so that she could participate in the “Survivor” series. Since Mrs. Martin was on an approved leave, her position was held open for her, and she returned to this same position upon her return from China. As a District, we make every effort to support our employees, and will continue to do so.

Nancy T. Lane
Superintendent of Schools

Denise, Denise. Now you’re $50,000 richer because “Survivor” creator/producer Mark Burnett decided to dip into his deep pockets to make you feel better. He can well afford it, but can you afford to go back and face those people in Douglas after this?


  1. Mary said,

    December 18, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    There has to be some truth to what Denise said: that she asked for her lunch-lady job back and was told that her presence would be too disruptive to the children since she was on Survivor. I can see the school not wanting bad publicity, but they are using their power in an unpleasant way. The host of CBS “Early Show” is not helping.

  2. Terri Wall said,

    December 18, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Shame be upon you Denise. Shame, Shame, Shame. Mr. Burnett should revoke his offer on grounds it was given under false pretense. I happen to agree with Courtney. We are not all born wealthy. We have to make our own way in this world. Denise has now made her way a little brighter with the help of a lie at the expense of the people who were pulling the most for her. I’d hang my head in shame. Terri from Indiana

  3. Jessica said,

    December 18, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    Kudos to Denise! Isn’t the game of Survivor based on being deceitful in order to win money? That’s exactly what she did apparently. Genius! Of course I think that any organization will “gloss over” certain facts that may amount to bad publicity. I think that truth lies somewhere in the middle of the stories told by both parties. Regardless… Denise, kudos!

  4. Jovo said,

    December 18, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    You can lie on Survivor, you can’t keep on lying when back in the real world. You’re a scumbag Denise, give the money back before they sue your a$$ off.

  5. donna said,

    December 19, 2007 at 4:00 am

    I love Survivor, I have watched it and I love watching all the characters on the show, I cried when I heard that Denise lost her job and to now find out it was a lie makes me feel very sick. The truth is Denise loved being a lunch lady, but don’t lie to get ahead, work hard at the job you have and work to get your old job back!!! Love what you do, do what you love. JUST don’t lie about it. Keep the $50,000 it will build your bank account but not your character. The game was over after you left China.

  6. Dan said,

    December 19, 2007 at 4:36 am

    And the big deal is…..???? Come on people, wake up. Denise is just trying to make a better life for her. So she cheated, big deal. Nobody complains when politicians and corporate CEO’s do it on a daily, even hourly, basis. And they don’t even need the money!

  7. Chelle said,

    December 19, 2007 at 7:03 am

    I don’t remember Denise being a big liar on the show…do you? Maybe I missed that episode. Myself, I don’t agree with being dishonest, but I think people make mistakes and I guarantee it’s not the worst thing that has ever happened with a contestant on Survivor. Richard Hatch, Johnny Fairplay…give her a break, she made a mistake.

  8. Ken said,

    December 19, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    She needs to give the money back. Her sob story was fine if she wanted people to feel bad for her. Once she was given the $50,000 everything changed. If she does not give it back, it should be taken back. She must feel pretty stupid now.

  9. Clare said,

    December 19, 2007 at 8:00 pm

    As a public school employee in MA and knowing how administrations work in MA public schools, I tend to side more with Denise. There is probably a LOT more to the story than is being shared, both by Denise AND the school system. But I also agree with the earlier post that pointed out how honest Denise has been throughout.

  10. logjam said,

    December 19, 2007 at 9:23 pm

    I have an idea. CBS should move Denise’s entire family back to L.A. and hire her as a custodian there. Where she can “work off” the $50k for a year. If she performs well, then they should give her a promotion. In Survivor, the game never ends. The finale is NO exception.

  11. vickie said,

    December 20, 2007 at 6:20 am

    you go denise! I know that the show is about deceit and lie to get ahead, The show was not over when they left china the show was still live and on the air when denise told her story, she was still playing the game when everyone else gave up knowing that little man who told the most lies won and everyone congradulated him and put him an a throne whileyou all throw stones at Denise. Besides that there is probably more to the story then what is being told, I can see a school corp, trying to protect theirself , but holding back information also.

  12. John said,

    December 20, 2007 at 8:55 am

    Mark Burnett and CBS are doing some conning here folks. They made it seem as though they were offering money to Denise because they are so humanitarian. The reason they offered the money was that Denise was a popular cast member who helped them get good ratings. Denise now has said she wants the money to go to the Elizabeth Glaser pediatric AIDS foundation, which was probably CBS’s idea considering that this is a Hollywood celebrity charity that probably would not have been the first charity to pop into Denise’s head. Hopefully, Burnett will still quietly pay Denise the money that was promised to her.

  13. Susan Cytko said,

    December 20, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    At $7.00 dollors an hour I hope that Denise does get the $50.000 promised. This must be a slow week for news. Who came up with the story? Bet she makes a lot more than $7.00 a week and while we are on the subject
    Denise is probably making $9.00 an hour. Wow you trying living on that.

  14. sarah said,

    December 21, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    If only Denise had been that cunning while she was actually still in China and playing the game. Maybe she could have won the million. Too little, too late.

  15. S said,

    December 23, 2007 at 6:55 am

    Everyone is jumping to the conclusion that Denise lied. She said that she couldn’t get her old job back. How does everybody know that she didn’t try to get her job back and they wouldn’t give it to her? So what if she moved to the janitor position before she came on Survivor? Maybe she missed her old job! There must be truth to that. Maybe she IS disappointed that she’s not able to spend time with family b/c of her new janitor job and when she tried to go back to the old job the school wouldn’t let her? I don’t think she was lying about that. The way she worded it got twisted around and those with more power (the school) made her look bad and now she has to deal with that reputation forever. If she wasn’t given the $50k, none of this would be such a big deal. The school district undoubtedly has their own negative part in this by twisting Denise’s words and saying she LIED when she probably really did ask for her old job back. So with Denise’s job on the line, she has to kiss up to the school, who probably was inundated with hate mail. I actually feel sorry for Denise. People are being too hard on her. By the way, I don’t think she was expecting to get $50k. This is a new precedent for Survivor. This negative publicity will probably help Mark Burnett by not having him “repeat the same mistake” so other survivors won’t try to get money with sob stories. I think everyone should just leave Denise alone. This poor lady has enough to worry about now.

  16. jameson said,

    December 23, 2007 at 10:21 pm

    If Denise didn’t really “suck at life” before (as Courtney so eloquently said), she sure will now!

  17. mary johnson said,

    January 7, 2008 at 7:49 am

    The woman applied for and got a promotion before she left. They held the job open for her. The town rooted for her. She lies AFTER the game is over, scams $50,000 and people STILL feel sorry for her? How many of you people are in jobs where they would let you leave, come back to a promotion and root for you? After reading some of the comments, I can see why the country is in the shape it is. Some people will just believe anything as long as an aw shucks person says it. Yeah, there were WMDs. And, uh, yeah, Hussein was behind 9/11. Situational ethics. Gotta love ’em.

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