And the prize is not cash but something equally coveted in these parts: housing.
Marketing student Nick Krautter and his two buddies have resorted to reality-TV tactics in their search for a roommate to share a four-bedroom home on what was formerly a Navy base. Rent is $700 a month.
At their Web site, the Treasure Island Experiment, the trio have invited each applicant to submit a postage stamp portrait along with a brief bio. Through a point system, the public then decides who would best be suited to live with 22-year-old Krautter and his two roommates, Tony Drolson, 24, a city worker, and Tat Ihara, 23, a college student.
"I hope we don't get stuck with some psychopath," Krautter said.
CBS's "Survivor," a show about 16 castaways trying to survive a slew of island challenges in pursuit of $1 million, has triggered a cult following and spawned a series of online fan clubs.
Some of the fan Web sites offer polls on the "hottest" women survivors under 30 and over 30. Others run office game pools or dish dirt on those who get booted off the island.
The show prompted "Temptation Island," a series on News Corp.'s Fox in which four unmarried couples spend two weeks apart on a tropical island resisting the advances of 13 single men and women.
Krautter said he played off the popularity of these reality shows to find a roommate because he was deluged with calls after listing the room on community site craigslist. The contest helps him screen applicants. The vacancy rate in San Francisco, as described by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1999, is 2.8 percent, or roughly 5,500 housing units of 339,600 total units in the city.
In other words, "really tight," said Teresa Ojeda, a city planner.
In the Treasure Island Experiment, voters pick first-, second- and third-place winners; the person with the highest points wins. The contest ends Feb. 23 with a March 1 move-in date.
So far, only four contestants have sent photos and information about themselves.
As of Friday morning, "Tyler" maintained the lead with 66 points. He describes himself as an architect with a passion for auto repair. Then there's "Dan," who holds a science degree, is self-described as "laid back" and carries in second place with 63 points.
"Jenny," a psychology student who works in a coffeehouse, says she has "long delicious legs." She says she can help the guys "sort out problems" and can provide eight pounds of free coffee a month. But she's not likely to win the contest with only 21 points.
With only 12 points, "Rob" is in last place. He describes himself as a law student with brown eyes and messy black hair. His contribution to the household would be dispensing legal advice, particularly for the Web site.
Krautter is rooting for the underdog, "Rob."
"He seems like he's really busy and wouldn't be around too much," Krautter said.
A disclaimer on the site allows the roommates to reject the winner, partly because a new roommate would have to be approved by the Treasure Island leasing department.
Treasure Island ceased its military operations in 1993 and began accepting residents to fill housing once occupied by Navy families. Preference was given to students, San Francisco city workers and homeless people.
The Bay Bridge runs through the natural part of the island called Yerba Buena. But the flat part, where Krautter lives, is manmade and bland.
"I wouldn't say it's ugly," he said. "I'd describe it as 'Leave it to Beaver' land with spectacular views of San Francisco and the Bay."