The rational mind would dismiss it as a "Baywatch" promotional event at San Jose State University, and a small and chintzy one at that.

But one person's gaseous promo event is another's career opportunity.Eight women and seven men answered the call one recent afternoon to strut their stuff on dry land, in hopes of nailing an appearance on the syndicated beach and babe TV series.

The two winners - Divini Bean, 21, of Portland, Ore., and Steve Niyati, 22, of Danville, Calif. - secured bit parts on a future "Baywatch" episode.

Well, almost bit parts. Bean and Niyati will be part of a montage of campus winners shown at the end of an episode, said contest producer Jason Altshuler, who works for a Los Angeles marketing firm called Mediamix.

They'll also compete with winners from 24 other "Baywatch Search On-Campus" competitions in a national finals contest.

The national winners presumably will qualify for two-bit parts in a "Baywatch" episode.

The 15 San Jose contestants auditioned in street clothes at the San Jose State student union, before a mildly curious throng of, oh, seven or eight spectators who wandered into the ballroom.

One contestant, who said he was a kickboxer, promptly shed his street clothes, down to his red boxer shorts, for the sake of TV art and science. He had his shirt half unbuttoned by the time Altshuler finished giving him his instructions: "In mime, tell the judges why you should be in `Baywatch.' "

A moment later, he was prancing around the stage with his jeans bunched at his ankles.

No David Hasselhoff, he. Nor a Steve Niyati, for that matter.

The kickboxing trouser-dropper lost. So did the gushy blonde who strode onto the stage, grasped the microphone and proclaimed, "I love the world, and I'd love the world to love me, too, and I just want to share my bliss with everyone."

The dark-haired, brown-eyed Niyati is a senior and a soccer player at San Diego State University. He said he decided to audition in San Jose after a friend won the "Baywatch" contest in San Diego.

Niyati has no acting experience - apparently not a huge impediment - and said he calmed his nerves during the audition by recalling his time in the public spotlight as an athlete.

"It's one of those opportunities," he said. "You always, in the back of your mind, wonder if you could be some kind of actor. You get an opportunity and you take it."

Bean, a well-tanned blonde who certainly appears to be gifted with outstanding lifeguard credentials, actually followed the contest from Portland after losing in the final rounds there, only days before the San Jose competition.

So she must be an avid "Baywatch" fan, right?

"No," she said, "actually, I really only watched part of the show once."

She might be forgiven because she's a professional swimsuit model who resides part time in Australia. But then, you can't escape "Baywatch."

Altshuler seemed disappointed by the sparse turnout in San Jose. By contrast, he said, a crowd of 3,000 watched 400 contestants vie in New York City. Even Portland produced 250 contestants.

"Maybe `Baywatch' and San Jose don't mix," sighed Altshuler.

Sandra Sage, a 28-year-old model from Santa Rosa, Calif., might have agreed, though for different reasons. A tall, slim brunette, she arrived ready to compete but decided to sit it out after she glanced at the small crowd and the panel of judges headed by a San Jose radio disc jockey.

"I phoned my agent," she said. "I found out who the judges were. They aren't actual agents or actors or actresses. It just didn't seem legitimate to me."

Too bad. Sage said she'd actually saved a life once. It was an auto accident, not a near drowning, but you didn't see Pamela Anderson Lee or Yasmine Bleeth pitching in to help.