Shore Leave

updated 06/06/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/06/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

LIFE FOR THE STARS OF BAYWATCH, THE internationally syndicated hit series about a preposterously good-looking L.A. beach patrol, is not altogether a day at the beach. Prospective cast members have to pass a swimming test and sign an agreement not to gain weight. Nicole Eggert, who plays lissome lifeguard Summer Quinn, handled all that, but there was more. "Everybody would get on my back about all the junk food I ate and that I smoked," she says. Finally, in February 1993, she quit smoking—"for myself," she emphasizes, "not the show."

Now she's getting ready to kick Baywatch totally after two seasons. While most network series shut down for the summer, Baywatch continues cranking out fresh tales of sex, sand and swimming mishaps. But around Labor Day, the 5'2", 110-lb. Eggert will vamoose. No more shooting scenes in the Pacific "at 6 a.m. when it's freezing and raining," she says. No more of the beach-kitten look that earned the show its nickname, Babewatch. Eggert has already gone from natural blond to dyed brunette. And last month she returned to the hospital to reduce the saline breast implants she got—"for myself"—last year. "They were way too big for what I asked for," Eggert says. "I wanted a regular B-cup. I'd never had boobs in my life, and I would wake up and be like, 'Oh, my God!' '

She won't get totally away from Spandex and Speedos in her new venture. This summer she'll turn up at MTV's Beach House for a week. And she will serve as host of ESPN's behind-the-scenes show, All Access, probably making its debut in the fall. Her job-switching, says Eggert, stems strictly from her desire for upward mobility. Although she won the Miss Universe Petite Division Pageant at age 5 and posed for sexy posters as a teenager, she maintains she's not just another pretty face—or body. "I'm not a bimbo," she says. "I'm totally ambitious. I don't want to run around in a bathing suit, dripping wet, in slow motion."

Eggert more or less grew up on-camera and on the beach. The older of two daughters born to Rolf Eggert, a German-born executive with a canning company, and his wife, Gina, a British-born talent agent, Eggert grew up in Huntington Beach, Calif., and started doing commercials and TV roles after her mini-Miss Universe win. "I was really spoiled, but I wasn't a brat," she says. "My mom was strict at the same time." At 10, Nicole played William Shatner's daughter on T.J. Hooker; at 15, one of the kids Scott Baio looked after on Charles in Charge; and, at 16, Baio's real-life girlfriend, even though he was 27 at the time. Of that relationship, she says ruefully, "He was manipulative, controlling. I learned young what men can be like. I thought I was in love, but I look back on it and laugh—ya know, one of those."

"Nicole has had strange boyfriends," concedes Gina, who thinks her daughter's education with on-set tutors and through night courses may have set her back socially. "She can be naive. I think she made some bad choices from not knowing a lot of kids."

But Gina and Nicole say current boyfriend Eric Etebari, 24, is a different story. "He's so cute," Eggert says of the 6'2", 200-lb. Versace model and volleyball player, whom she met at a '70s-theme nightclub in 1992. "He pushes me forward. Being with him has been the best time of my life."

Well, not entirely. Eggert claims Etebari's former girlfriend, model Estee Stanley, 24, has continued to pester him since they broke up two years ago. According to one account, Eggert and Stanley traded blows last February inside L.A.'s notorious Viper Room after this exchange:

Eggert: "Eric loves me, not you. He thinks you're disgusting. He tells me all the time how much he loathes you and that you should leave him alone."

Stanley: "If that's true, you should check out his phone bill. He calls and wants to see me whenever you're out of town."

Eggert says she knew Etebari had phoned Stanley, but only for a legal discussion over a 1992 car accident in which they were involved. Contrary to press stories that have Eggert striking the first blow, it was Stanley who attacked, Eggertsays. "She elbowed me in the back of the head and pushed me from behind," says Eggert. "She scratched me in the face and neck, and I hit her back." (Stanley has not responded to PEOPLE'S request for her version of the feud.)

Both filed assault charges, but the DA's office threw their cases out in March, and Etebari swears that Nicole is his sole romantic interest. "Our love shone through in the end," he says.

He and Eggert live together in her two-bedroom Hollywood condo, which she has decorated in a style she laughingly describes as "whorey French"—heavy on candelabras, angel figurines and gold molding. (Heavy on pets too: she owns two cats, Priscilla and Beau, a Maltese named Cody and a Rottweiler named Sadie.) But Eggert admits that she needs her private moments. She'd rather be here by herself, she says, crocheting to Beavis and Butt-head, than watching Etebari spike volley-balls in the sand that he seemingly lives to tread on. "I used to love the beach," says the departing Baywatch star. "But having had to work there every day, forget it!"

TOM GLIATTO
JOHN GRIFFITHS in Los Angeles

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