Photo: Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS
December 18, 2007 12:00 AM

Denise Martin didn’t win the grand prize on Sunday’s Survivor: China live finale but the popular “lunch lady,” as she’s known to fans, earned herself one very nice consolation prize–$50,000 from producer Mark Burnett after revealing that she’d lost her job when she appeared on the reality show.

But by Tuesday morning, Martin was on the CBS Early Show answering allegations that she did not, in fact, lose her job as she claimed during Sunday’s telecast. She has since donated the $50,000 to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, which is the pet charity of Survivor. “It was not my intention to be misleading,” Martin said, responding to a press release issued by the Douglas, Mass., school superintendent Nancy T. Lane on the school’s web site on Monday.

“Nancy has been outstanding to me… .I appreciate everything they’ve done, and I’m sorry. I apologize to everybody. If none of this had happened, I could never say I’m sorry enough.”

In the release, Lane says in part: “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.”

Originally, Martin claimed her new custodial job–while found her working nights–adversely affected her family, offering her little time to spend with her children.

After Sunday’s telecast, Martin said her surprise prize money was a real boon. “I was in shock,” she told PEOPLE. “I couldn’t believe that Burnett actually did that.”

For her part, Lane says everybody is disappointed by Martin’s fabrications. “We did nothing but encourage her,” she told Entertainment Weekly.

“Douglas is a nice little town. Everybody was rooting for her, the local paper was bending over backwards with positive articles. Then to have it end this way. Talk about a letdown.” –Brian Orloff and Cynthia Wang

Photo: Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS

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