School district denies Denise was demoted; was always a janitor and was actually promoted

Survivor China lunch lady Denise Martin was not demoted to the position of janitor, as she claimed on the reunion show, and was actually a janitor before she left to tape the series, her school district said today.

On the live reunion show, Denise Martin said she was no longer a lunch lady, because her bosses “didn’t give me my job back.” Instead, she says she is “a janitor now” who is “missing out on a lot more” with her family because of her new schedule. As a result, the show’s executive producer, Mark Burnett, said he’d give Denise $50,000.

But the Douglas Public Schools in Douglas, Mass., says that Denise’ story isn’t true. Superintendent Nancy T. Lane said in a statement that Denise wasn’t a lunch lady before she left, and in fact has since received a promotion. The statement said that Denise

“…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.”

Press Release: Mrs. Denise Martin [Douglas Public School District]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.