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I don't buy her woe is me act. Looks like even the castaways knew she was promoted to janitor before she left as well.

On the Survivor reunion Sunday night, Denise told a sad story about how she came back and was demoted from lunch lady to night janitor at her school because she was too well-known. But the school district quickly replied to this claim with a press release saying the story is completely untrue. How do they describe the situation? What is the evidence? And what does fellow contestant Courtney have to add to the discussion?

One of the most dramatic moments of the Survivor: China live reunion on Sunday night was Denise telling the story of how she was no longer a school lunch lady. She had been demoted to being a night custodian, she said, because she was too recognizable and her presence was a distraction.

I, like many others, couldn't believe what I was hearing. Most Survivor contestants receive support from their hometowns, not penalties at work. Sure, some get fired when they have to take a long leave of absence to play and aren't necessarily allowed to explain why, but this was a different situation.

Denise's story sounded horrible. She had to clean toilets instead of making sandwiches. She had to miss dinner with her family and other activities with her kids. It was a true tale of woe. It was so bad that Mark Burnett decided to give her $50,000 to get her life back together again.

But now word has come out that while it was indeed a tale of woe, it might not have actually been a true tale at all.

On Monday morning, Nancy Lane, the superintendent of Douglas Public Schools, where Denise works, issued a press release and posted it on the school system's website. In it, Lane says flat-out that Denise's statement about being demoted "is false." The release continues: "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."

Later, the release adds, "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." (Emphasis in original.)

When I was interviewing Courtney, the topic of Denise came up. We talked about it not as part of the transcribed interview, but just as a discussion point, since Courtney had been criticized for slamming Denise on the show and then Denise received the $50,000 gift from Mark Burnett. I mentioned the superintendent's press release and Courtney told me that Denise had told her fellow players the same thing as the press release said while they were in China, regarding her getting a promotion to janitor.

Right now, things don't look good for Denise. The press release makes it sound like the district went out of their way to do whatever they could to help Denise - giving her time off, holding her position for her, etc. And then Denise went on national television, a show watched by some 15 million people, and slammed them.

Denise was the only final four contestant who did not call me during their allotted interview time, with no explanation. I am forced to wonder if the reason for her missed call has something - or everything - to do with this issue.

Since I couldn't talk to her directly about it, I have to rely on other reports. EW.com received the following response from CBS about the situation: "The comments made by [Denise] on the program were compelling and sympathetic. If these statements were misleading or false, we hope that she will take immediate and public steps to clarify her remarks."

Superintendent Lane also told EW.com that she had spoken to Denise on Monday afternoon and that Denise was apologetic. However, Lane said, "she did not explain why she said that, to my satisfaction." She further noted that Denise's job is still waiting for her when she returns from L.A., but, "I might have a few things I'd like to talk about." Indeed.

I hope Denise will soon go public with an explanation of what happened. In the meantime, I am forced to wonder what Mark Burnett will do with that $50,000 he said he'd give her. It seems unrealistic to expect him to pay up now that it turns out her sob story might not have even been true - and in fact she might be better off financially than she was previously!

Since Denise has not spoken out on this, I like to try to keep an open mind. However, the evidence does not look good for her. Either she told a tall tale on national TV, or we have a combination of a school superintendent lying plus Courtney lying to me for no reason plus Denise being very quiet about the whole thing. It's not looking good, Denise.

I'm not surprised in the least. This was Denise's whole strategy to make people feel sorry for her.

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Survivor: CHINA · Primetime Discussion