'Survivor: China's Denise Martin apologizes for 'misleading' job tale
By Christopher Rocchio, 12/18/2007
Denise Martin had a hard time telling lies during her 39 days as a Survivor: China castaway -- however she apparently got more comfortable and had no problem bending the truth once she returned to the States.
During Survivor: China's live reunion show broadcast Sunday night on CBS, the 40-year-old from Douglas, MA said when she returned from filming Survivor over the summer, her Douglas Public School District employer "didn't give me my job back" as a lunch lady and instead -- allegedly citing the fact that her newfound fame had made her "too distracting" -- made her a custodian. But there was apparently one big problem with the hard-luck story Martin told on live national television: it wasn't true.
According to Nancy Lane, the school district's superintendent, Martin was only transferred to the custodial position after she applied for it. And in addition to representing a significant promotion, she began the new position in March -- several months before she filmed Survivor: China this past summer.
After having her false tale called out on Monday, Martin apologized for it on Tuesday.
"It was not my intention to be misleading," said Martin during a Tuesday morning appearance on CBS' The Early Show. "Nancy has been outstanding to me. She has done everything possible. She gave me a leave of absence [to participate in Survivor]... I appreciate everything that they've done. I'm sorry. I apologize to everybody. Believe me... I couldn't say I'm sorry enough."
Lane also participated in The Early Show interview, which was conducted by co-anchor Julie Chen. Lane went over the chronology of events concerning the issue, and said Martin was first employed by the district in 2004.
"She was employed in the cafeteria, helping to serve lunch to our students," Lane told Chen. "But in January 2007, the position came open in our custodial department and Denise applied for and was granted that position on March 30. That position comes with better benefits, it comes with a much higher salary. She's been in that position ever since."
Martin told Chen that Lane's timeline was "perfectly accurate" and attempted to explain what happened.
[When I was on Survivor, [I decided] I wanted to go back to my original lunch lady job," said Martin. "I did everything I could. I tried to talk to the food service director, I tried to talk to my original manager, and tried to go back to my original job. I truly believe that I love that job. That was one of the most favorite parts of my life and when I was away from my family for so long, I just wanted to go back to the way things were before I was on the nightshift... I was told I could not have my old job back. They didn't give me any particular reason. They just said, 'No.'"
Lane said Martin had been back from filming Survivor: China since August and Monday was the first she heard about the castaway's desire to return to her old job.
"I make the personnel decisions in the district -- myself and the business manager. Denise has not had a conversation with either one of us. Yesterday was the first I had heard that she expressed an interest," said Lane. "But she can't return to a position that's not available, and that position isn't available. There isn't an opening there... If one should open in the future, Denise knows how to transfer positions in the district -- she's done it once -- and we'd certainly consider that."
Martin was revealed to be Survivor: China'sfourth-place finisher during Sunday night's finale broadcast that preceded the live reunion show, during which she told host Jeff Probst what had allegedly happened with her job.
"I went back and I talked to the food service director, and they didn't give me my job back," said Martin. "So I ended up having to go -- I'm a janitor now. I clean the toilets, I wash the floors of the bathrooms, I vacuum the kids' rugs. I miss dinner with my family. I haven't been to a field hockey game yet. I'm missing out on a lot more than I originally had planned on doing."
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"The original reason was they said it was too distracting," Martin continued. "The kids all come in -- everyone in the school comes up to me and everyone is like 'Hey, how you doing' -- all the third graders walk by me in thr afternoon [and] they're like 'hi Denise,' 'hi Denise,' 'hi Denise." One-hundred and twenty-five of them walk by and every one of them says 'hi' to me, so I still -- it's emotional, I mean I miss my job. If anybody out there is looking for a lunch lady on the day shift, you know give me a call."
Several minutes after Martin explained the circumstances surrounding her job, Probst revealed Survivor executive producer Mark Burnett was backstage listening.
"I'm not kidding: Just now on a break, he said to let Denise know that Mark Burnett is going to give Denise $50,000!" gushed Probst.
While Martin danced around the issue of whether or not she planned on keeping the $50,000 during her The Early Show appearance, she did tell Chen it was not her intention to scam Burnett.
"I had no idea I'd be rewarded that," said Martin. "Mark Burnett Productions has been outstanding to me... I've had such a great experience with CBS. Like I said, I did not intend it to come across that way. I love my town, I love my community."
Martin and Lane's The Early Show appearance came after Lane released a statement on Monday reacting to the reunion show comments.
"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," said Lane in the statement. "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."
Martin's new custodial position pays her more than $17 an hour, about $10 an hour more than her old cafeteria position, a "flabbergasted" Lane toldThe Boston Globe on Monday.
After the school district objected to Martin's comments, CBS had initially responded by releasing a Monday statement of its own.
"The comments made by Ms. Martin on the program were compelling and sympathetic," said CBS in the statement, Entertainment Weekly reported. "If these statements were misleading or false, we hope that she will take immediate and public steps to clarify her remarks."
Lane told Chen her biggest problem with what Martin said during the reunion show was that it "really cast a very negative light on the whole experience for the community, and I really feel bad for them."
Margaret Reed, chairperson of the town's school committee, told Reality TV World on Tuesday that the district received thousands of "hate-filled emails" from around the world following the reunion show, which is what prompted them to speak out.
"It's really a sad ending to something everybody was excited about," said Reed. "We're not a big town -- but we're a close community -- people have been cheering her on. It's just sad every way you look at it."