December 22, 2007 09:24 AM by Ryan Haidet
She came into the game as a lunch lady with an unforgettable hairstyle. 40-year-old Denise Martin of Douglas, Massachusetts, became a memorable player whorocked a mullet and ended upin fourth place. Like winner Todd Herzog, Denise was a fan of the show before she was chosen. “My kids and I, we’d sit down every Thursday night and watch the show and hang out,” she said on the red carpet Sunday night.
Getting picked was a moment she’ll never forget. “Oh, I couldn’t believe it, I was like, ‘I got picked are you kidding me?’ I was like jumping up and down and I’m like, ‘I’m gonna be on, I’m gonna be on. Oh my god, I’m gonna be on! What am I gonna do now?’” But she said the whole thing didn’t seem real to her until she ended up on location in China. It was definitely real and the students at the school she works at made it seem even moreunbelievable as they were thrilled to see her. “Every single day, everybody comes up to me. They come up to me in the hallways, they high five. Like every day at 3 o’clock, the kids walk by, the 3rd graders, and say ‘Hey Denise, hey Denise, hey Denise how you doing?’ It’s just crazy.”
But her children didn’t really know what to think of their mom being on the show. “They were a little nervous and they still don’t understand what’s going on,” she said. “I mean we’ll go to the local Wal-Mart and like 15 people will surround me and ask me questions. And my kids are like, ‘C’mon, c’mon let’s go see the toys, let’s go to the toys’ and I’m like, ‘Just five more minutes.’”
Although she said she realizes the attention and notoriety will fade, she can’t help but think about the decisions she had made in the game. If given the chance to go back, would she align with Peih-Gee and Erik? “Sometimes I’m back and forth,” she said. “I’m like if I had gone with them I would have made it to the three, but I know I wouldn’t have won because I would have had to screw over my original people. I was thinking, ‘Well if I run with Amanda and Todd and Courtney then I have a chance at the final immunity, I might win it ’cause Todd and Courtney were definitely weaker than I was at that point.’ So I was back and forth and I couldn’t decide. And then I was like, ‘If it happens that Todd and Erik end up going against each other and Todd wins and we go back to camp I’m out then. I’m out at five. I’m not even waiting till like four or three. So my only choice was to play the way I went and just go on from there.”
Even though she has been back and forth on that decision, there is no doubt which moment she enjoyed most. Denise, a martial artist was given the opportunity to go to the Shaolin Temple courtesy of Peih-Gee. “I’ve been in martial arts now for eight years. This is kung fu the origin. We got to go in this temple, in the back, we got to sit in this private little courtyard and the history in that place is hundreds and hundreds of years old. I mean nobody is ever gonna be able to do what I’ve done. I can say that I was in the monastery, I was in the back room, I was all over the Shaolin Temple and I was doing karate. I was teaching little kids. They were like showing me stuff, I was showing them stuff. It was incredible.”
But after Peih-Gee brought her along on that amazing experience, Denise never repaid her by bringing her on a reward that she won. “I so appreciated that she took me and picked me, but what happened, really, was that it was a strategic move on her part.” Denise said that James pointed to her when Peih-Gee was given the option to choose somebody to take along because he knew she would enjoy it and also because nobody else wanted to go with Peih-Gee. “He knew how much I appreciated it and I could see her saying, ‘Oh he’s pointing to her, maybe if I pick her I’ll have his and her vote.’”
Making it to the final four in “Survivor” is no easy task and Denise credits that achievement to all the alliances she made – not just the obvious one with Todd and Amanda. “I had a lot of soft alliances all over the place. I was a soft alliance with James and JR. I was a soft alliance with Peih-Gee because I knew she needed me. I was in an alliance with Aaron in the beginning, with Amanda from the beginning. I was in an alliance with Todd. I was just trying to spread it around – just be nice, just be myself, work hard, do what I had to do and try not to be like, ‘Oh you’re the one that’s going to be off tonight,’ because I didn’t want to be that person.”
And yet, even with her close bonds with Todd and Amanda, Denise voted for Courtney to win the $1 million – which came as a shock to many. “It was actually at the final Tribal Council when I was talking to Amanda about having (my) back and all that stuff and I was just mad at Todd because Todd’s a slickster. You knew he was gonna be a snake and everything and I knew I was not going to vote for him. I was leaning towards Amanda, but then when she messed me up, I was like, you know what, Courtney has been honest the whole time, she’s just been herself, she’s just gotten by and she lasted 39 days – that’s more than me. For her to get by that far, I thought she deserved it just as much as anybody else. And everyone’s like, ‘No, she just made it by.’ Well you know what, it doesn’t matter. She made it by everybody else.”
And then came the live reunion show where Denise made the comments that would leave manysour as if they had just taken a bite of rotten school pizza. (Please note this interview was done on the red carpet the night of the finale) She said that when she returned home from China her job as a lunch lady was no longer available to her and she was stuck working as a janitor at the school scrubbing toilets and cleaning floors. It was an emotional story that executive producer Mark Burnett reacted to. He had host Jeff Probst announce during the reunion that he was going to personally give her $50,000. She was excited about that gift and moments after the show ended, she spoke to Burnett. “I thanked him. I thanked him immensely and he’s like, ‘I didn’t do this for the publicity. I did this because I just want you to have a good life,’ and I’m very happy for all the stuff he says. , He is such a great guy, he really is, and I really appreciate what he did for me.”
But then more of that story came out and some people at the school were accusing Denise of lying saying that she had applied for the janitorial job before she left for China. Denise said on “The Early Show” that she didn’t mean to be misleading but it was true that she had applied to be a janitor. Recently, AP is reporting that Denise is donating the $50,000 to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
Hungry for more exclusive interviews? Served up tomorrow is a chat with third-place finisher Amanda Kimmel of “Survivor: China.” Hear why she thinks the jury was harsh on her and why she aligned with Todd so early in the game.