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todd256.jpgAt the beginning of “Survivor: China,” Todd Herzog was one of the most talked-about contestants on the show. Todd, a flight attendant from Utah, identified himself as a gay Mormon, which is a bit of a contradiction, considering that the Mormon church views homosexuality as immoral. However, by the time the season wrapped up, it wasn’t just Todd’s identity that got attention, it was his shrewd game-playing strategy. He was the center of a strong alliance that ultimately paid off Sunday night, when the jury voted him the winner.
While Herzog’s faith didn’t get as much airtime as I’d hoped at the beginning of the season, his million-dollar victory wasn’t the most spiritual moment of the finale. Fourth-place contestant Denise Martin, a school lunch lady whose humility had earned her the admiration of the audience, announced on the live reunion show that she’d lost her job in the cafeteria and been forced to accept a demotion to janitor. After a commercial break, host Jeff Probst announced that show creator Mark Burnett was personally giving Denise $50,000 of his own money ” to help get your life the way you want it.” Denise burst into tears at the kind gesture–and she wasn’t the only one.
However, just as I was writing this post today, the superintendent of Denise’s school announced in a press release that the “demotion” was actually a promotion that Denise applied for before the show began filming. Denise has not confirmed or denied the accusations in the press release, but the evidence seems pretty damning. While it’s not at all unusual for reality show contestants to lie in order to win or get ahead (like previous “Survivor” contestant Jonny Fairplay, who cooked up an elaborate lie about his grandmother’s death to gain sympathy), Denise’s story may have far-reaching implications. If it turns out that she’s lying, she owes an apology to her employers and to the “Survivor” audience who rooted for her under false pretenses. Furthermore, the right thing to do is return Mark Burnett’s money. Fourth place contestants on “Survivor” already take home about $60,000 in prize money, and that’s all she has earned.
For the sake of everyone involved, I can only hope Denise’s story is a misunderstanding and not a deliberate lie. But it’s going to be a hard story to believe. Onto “Survivor: Micronesia,” everyone!

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